Women Are Using Instagram To Document Eating Disorder Recovery

By John Lavitt 06/23/16

As Instagram tries to stamp out pro-eating disorder hashtags, a positive eating disorder recovery community has become a growing presence on the photo-sharing app. 

Women Are Using Instagram To Document Eating Disorder Recovery

While photo-sharing mobile apps and websites like Instagram and Tumblr have been scrutinized for harboring pro-eating disorder communities, there's another side to that phenomenon—social media communities that support one another through eating disorder recovery.

Instead of #thinspiration, #proana and #thighgap—Instagram hashtags that have all been disabled for promoting disordered eating—other communities unite in recovery through the hashtags #edrecovery, #edsurvivor and #beatana. ("Ana" refers to anorexia nervosa.) People who frequent the hashtag communities, who are mostly women, leave supportive feedback on each others' Instagram posts. These posts consist of before-and-after photos, inspirational quotes, and lots of photos of healthy food. The phenomenon has provided a safe space for young people to seek mutual support in a virtual world.

Motherboard spoke with Julia Grigorian, a 20-year-old San Diego college student, who discovered the #edrecovery hashtag one day during a planking session. "I realized there was an entire world of people out there, just like me, struggling with the same demons," said Grigorian, who is now at a healthy weight. Grigorian and another user, a 21-year-old college student who only gave her first name, Robin, said they stopped participating in the Instagram ED recovery community after they got to a stable place in their recovery.

“I’ve shifted myself away in the past few months because it feels like more of a competition than a supportive community,” Robin told Motherboard. Grigorian also said that while it was important to her recovery, the Instagram community held her back, in a way.“I’ll never forget the encouraging support it provided me,” she said, “but I honestly don’t think I understood what it meant to live outside of my identity as someone with an eating disorder until I got rid of the account.”

Indeed, the community can have its problems, said Margot Rittenhouse, a mentor with Mentor Connect, an online eating disorder recovery community. Social media allows anyone to create the appearance of recovery, and "purport to be doing well and taking advice while still incredibly unhappy and unhealthy," Rittenhouse told Motherboard.

Another dark side to the ED recovery community is the hashtag #edrelapse, where users have posted the reality of struggling with a psychological disorder and falling back on old habits. Many people struggling with substance use disorders can no doubt relate.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.