Instagram’s wellness culture has created a new kind of eating disorder

Instagram’s wellness culture has created a new kind of eating disorder

CultureAugust 24, 2017 By Lindsey Kline

They only eat gluten-free granola bars. Raw vegan smoothies are their primary source of protein. They believe sugars and trans-fats are the devil’s work. This horde of American health-nuts consider themselves “clean eaters,” but their infatuation with wellness is actually starting to make them sick.

Wellness culture, the lovechild of ultra-thin Instagram models and America’s latest health craze, has given rise to a unique eating disorder known as orthorexia — in which the afflicted develop an unhealthy obsession with what they put in their mouths and adopt extreme, restrictive diets.

They'll eliminate dairy, gluten, meat, sugar, until there's almost nothing left to eat.

Dangerously underweight people check themselves into eating disorder clinics all the time with bizarre food restrictions. A man will, for example, only eat nuts and flaxseed, which is healthy, but isn't enough for a healthy diet. (Orthorexia shows up pretty equally in men and women, experts in eating disorders say.) Or a woman will only eat food she grew herself. Which might be fine if she were a farmer, but she's a suburban mother with a quarter acre of land — growing barely enough to feed a dog, let alone a full-grown person. 

Sometimes, they're so mentally ill that a judge will order them to be hospitalized against their will, because if they left, they would die of malnourishment. A court will order a feeding tube forcibly shoved down their throats — that's how bad they don't want to eat things that "aren't good for them." 

Brain chemistry isn't the only thing to blame for this. Unsurprisingly, recent studies indicate higher Instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of the disorder, with no other social media source inducing the same effect.

Many public health figures who suffered from orthorexia have come forward to bring the disorder to light. Jordan Younger, a prominent Instagram health blogger, began her health and fitness blog — the Blonde Vegan — by sharing her ritual vegan cleanses.

Younger cleansed for a minimum of three days a week, until returning to solid food began to make her feel physically ill. Her cycle of cleansing until she was starved, bingeing on solid food, then feeling sick to her stomach and riddled with guilt was the norm until she found the strength to admit she had a problem.

Still, many people struggle to admit when healthy eating becomes unhealthy compulsion — and Instagram culture has only exacerbated our fixation with the virtue of food. Young adults are especially susceptible to Instagram’s negative influence on body image, social comparison, and general psychological well-being.

When we scroll through our feeds and see nothing but six-pack abs, organic kale smoothies, and sculpted tooshies in Lululemon yoga pants, we naturally start to fetistize health food, too. Too much of an obsession with health, though, can actually kill people.