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Media Influence on Eating Disorders


By Columnist Eleni Psillakis – Eating Disorder Educator and Filex 2016 Inspiration Award Winner:

Magazines and Body Image
Photo Credit: Todd Lapin 2010 – What’s in Fashion?

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, eating disorders were either classified as bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa. Anorexia was labelled as the ‘disorder of the decade’ in the 1980’s. The death of singer Karen Carpenter, during this decade, of a cardiac arrest after a battle with anorexia, raised public awareness. Shortly thereafter tertiary institutions established counselling and support services. At this time, media in the 1980’s included television, radio, newspapers and magazines.

With the internet and the many platforms of social media, there is also a longer list of eating disorders. According to Eatingdisorders.org.au, these include anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating disorder, eating disorders not otherwise specified, disordered eating and body dysmorphia. The age of onset of eating disorders is also less, with children as young as eight being admitted to hospital. The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and Westmead Hospital in Sydney, have both had an increase in admissions of children under 12 for eating disorders.

Media help develop body image
A Recent Headline Published in the ‘Body and Soul’ section of the Sunday Telegraph

Evidence suggests there is a correlation between the media and body weight related issues, whether it be obesity, extreme underweight or anything in between. The real problem, however, is the thought processes of an individual, their self-talk, and their behaviour patterns around food and exercise. Low self-esteem is a common characteristic of all types of eating disorders.

Common thought patterns may include – “I’m good. I’ve been good today. I’m bad. I’m dirty. I’m ugly. I feel guilty. I’m scared. I’m not worth it. I feel fat. I’m not pretty. I’m not good looking.” Low self-esteem leads to looking externally for approval, and our worth becomes ingrained with unhealthy diet and exercise behaviour.

Social Media Posts and Eating Disorders

We live in a society saturated with images and posts around food, diet, exercise and weight loss. At the time of writing this article, I searched hashtags around these issues. Here are just a few and the number of posts I found that are associated:

  • #diet – 28, 004, 812 posts
  • #weightloss – 24, 622, 491 posts
  • #fitspo – 33,340, 198 posts
  • #thin – 2,399, 112 posts
Social media influences our thoughts
Photo Credit: Nick Booth 2009 – Social Media

We have access to these posts, all of them, daily. Many of these posts contain photoshopped and sexualized poses, images of tiny meals, and they mention ‘clean eating’. Some even suggest doing an extra exercise session to not feel guilty about the chocolate bar ate as a treat. These posts only feed the negative thoughts that a person with an eating disorder or disordered eating is struggling to overcome. There is an emotional attachment to the posts.

A person suffering from an eating disorder is already in competition with themselves. They focus on everything they eat and how much exercise they do. So now their comparison extends to what they see in the media, including how many ‘likes’ their posts attract.

Thinspiration and Pro-Ana Websites are an Alarming Concern

I am hesitant to mention pro-ana and thinspiration websites as I do not wish to promote them. However, at the same time want to make parent’s and others aware that these sites exist. Children as young as eight are also frequenting them.

These sites provide a pro-active platform for people with eating disorders and encourage visitors to lose weight and to be thin. For instance, Sarah, now 28, elaborates on her involvement in such proactive material in an article published in the UK Telegraph. As Sarah states, “Then I started posting weight loss pictures. I’d write what I was going to eat in advance so that I was accountable and I’d be disgusted with myself if I dared eat anymore. I lived in fear that someone would comment, ‘You’re eating too much, no wonder you’re not thin.’ It was bullying in a sense, but friendship in another.”

When self-acceptance and self-worth are not based on external means of approval or based on performance, then the media should have less or no effect on these issues. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy, fit and have a great body composition not only for aesthetic reasons but also for health reasons. It is when unhealthy thought patterns and behaviours influence and reinforce unrealistic ideals that it becomes a problem.

Such behaviour is a difficult cycle to break, and the issues may be hard to control. Nevertheless, confronting these are worth the effort as it leads to freedom – when you love who you are you are not be bound by self-imposed rules and rituals. With psychological help, this is possible.

The plus sized image published by Calvin Klein
Calvin Klein was  blasted over social media over the publication of this  ‘plus sized’ model’s picture

About Our Eating Disorder News and Review Columnist – Eleni Psillakis

IMG_0727Combining over 27-years experience in the fitness industry, education and a lived experience of eating disorder, Eleni Psillakis is raising awareness of eating disorders as serious mental illnesses. In this time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, she is aware of the fine-line that may be crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.

Using resistance training to gain weight to her 39kg frame at age 19, Eleni physically recovered and went on to compete in women’s bodybuilding. However the underlying emotional issues and thought patterns resurfaced 25-years later when her marriage broke down and she was diagnosed with clinical depression. Antidepressants and 8-years of psychological counselling, assisted with unlearning of negative thought processes that Eleni had of herself for most of her life. These were nothing to do with body image, but self-worth.

Resistance training again helped the process of stopping her thoughts racing during this time of depression and she stepped back onto the competition stage gaining a top 3 place in her division for each of the 5 competitions since. It was the psychological help that has made the difference this time around.


In 2016, Eleni received the ‘Inspiration Award’ at the prestigious FILEX health and fitness convention, an event that recognises excellence within the industry. Eleni won the award due to her commitment in promoting awareness of eating disorders and dedication to educating others in how to overcome feelings of self-loathing.


An Insight to Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders for Fitness Professionals”, a seminar that Eleni has written, has been approved by Fitness Australia for continuing education.

Eleni Logo

Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.




9 thoughts on “Media Influence on Eating Disorders”

  1. This is a really thought provoking article. I’ve not thought about media this much before. But you are right, they do influence us and in so many ways.

  2. As a long time sufferer from an eating disorder myself Eleni, I find the way you write touching. I like the fact that you share your own experiences in your work. I commend you for this. It is not easy to tell others that you have an eating disorder or had one. I am still to face this myself. Your words give me hope and courage. Thank you for making such a difference.

    1. Hi Melanie. Your comment has encouraged me. Thank you! I believe that we need to share our experiences more to help each other. There is not enough ‘real’ conversation about tough issues. Never give up hope and if you would like to email me please feel free to do so at info@brazengrowth.com.au. 🙂

  3. Very thought provoking article Eleni. I appreciate your raw honesty and easy to understand way of writing.

    1. Thank you Alexis! I found that not being honest only lead to trying harder to be someone I wasn’t, lead to people pleasing and to a whole lot unhealthy behaviours in an attempt to feel better. We need to allow each other to ‘just be’. Then maybe people will start liking themselves 🙂

  4. Truly a compelling contribution this month Eleni. I was not aware of pro-ana and thinspiration websites. I found these to be extremely confronting and was astounded that others aim to encourage such practices. Thank you for your amazing insight and revelations!

    1. Thank you Tricia. It is a real concern that these sites exist & continue to be allowed to exist. Freedom of speech yet bound by these devastating illnesses that rob so much of someone’s life.

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