By Sophie Chirgwin

Pressure to become fit and shed kilos during COVID-19 is detrimental to young people who are predisposed to eating disorders, health experts warn.

Since the pandemic struck, some social media pages have been plastered with videos and photos of weight loss during isolation, with influencers showing home-workout videos encouraging others to get fit.

Despite the intentions often being well-meaning, Professor Tracey Wade from Flinders University says it can often put people at risk of disordered eating.

“During COVID I know there are a lot of social media posts and visual accompaniment of how to do more exercise at home, and everyone feeling like they had failed and not done enough,” she said.

Professor Tracey Wade says social media can lead to disordered eating. Credit: Supplied

“The focus of a lot of these things is about appearance or eating cleanly or healthily and everyone starting to get a bit focused on that, and that’s the thing that places them at risk of developing disordered eating.”

The topic is timely for Prof Wade, who has just launched an online program called Media Smart which will help young people navigate their way through social media and become more discerning of which platforms they expose themselves to.

“There are certainly correlations that say the more social media accounts people have in adolescence than the higher level of eating disorder behaviours,” she said.

“It either produces unhealthy behavior or it attracts people who have an unhealthy focus on their eating.”

Clinical Nutritionist Lexi Crouch, who has lived experience with an eating disorder and was hospitalized 25 times, said young girls are very susceptible and social media can cause them to spiral.

“I am older now and recovered, thank goodness there wasn’t Instagram in my time, I think that would have just sent an absolutely spiral, I know it’s already doing that now,” she said.

“I work as a mentor for a lot of the girls who are in their twenties and still very susceptible and honestly it is most of their issue… their whole mood can plummet in regards to social media and what they see.”

Ms Crouch said often on social media people are just showing the highlights of their life, but it doesn’t mean everything is perfect.

Lexi Crouch said young girls are particularly influenced by what they see on social media Credit: Supplied

“Because we are spending so much time inside we’re not connecting with people as much as we used to, so we rely on social media as our means to connect but it’s getting very skewed,” she said.

“It can get very twisted when you are following an influencer to be like them, when half the time they don’t know what they’re doing, nobody really does.”

Ms Crouch recommended filtering out Instagram accounts which can be potentially triggering and finding a positive community online.

Prof Wade and Ms Crouch have dedicated their careers to help young people struggling with eating disorders and have both been strongly involved in the ground-breaking new Eating Disorders Genetics Initiative (EDGI) study.

Brisbane researchers from QIMR Berghofer are calling for  volunteers aged 13 and over, with first-hand experience of an eating disorder, to enrol in the world’s largest ever genetic investigation into three complex, devastating illnesses.

The aim of the study is to identify the hundreds of genes that influence a person’s risk of developing anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder, to improve treatment, and ultimately, save lives.

To find out more information, or to particular in the study head to www.edgi.org.au

If you need to talk to someone about eating disorders call the Butterfly National Helpline on 1800 33 4673.