Social Media Detox for Better Body Image and a Healthier, Happier Life

In this post:

  • positives of social media
  • negatives of social media
  • who to unfollow
  • who to follow

Rather than a food detox that will likely leave you with an unhealthy relationship with food (been there, done that) what if you detoxed your social media to actually improve your life instead?

I think we’ve all wrestled – at some point or another – with social media. What role do we want it to play in our life? Is it healthy? Unhealthy? Is it keeping us connected or making us more lonely? These questions are most helpful when answered at a totally individual level; each person uses social media differently and consequently has a different outcome from that usage.

In this post I want to discuss how social media impacts one specific area: body image. Is it possible to use social media to actually improve our body image? We’ll chat about positives and negatives of social media, who or what kinds of accounts to unfollow as well as follow, and general benefits of reducing time spent on social media. Let’s dive in!

Positives of social media

If you ask yourself, “what are the positives of social media for me?” and can’t think of a single thing, then it’s possible you’re someone who would be better off without social media in your life! However for most people, when asked this question, we can make quite a list of benefits.

I think in 2020 alone we witnessed a lot of good come from social media. We experienced the power that comes when people can share truth both from their voices and from images or videos they captured. Rather than relying solely on news or media outlets, we had the incredible sources of people using these platforms to connect and share vital information. Also in 2020 we experienced physical isolation, separation and quarantines.

We experienced the loss of many of our usual activities and opportunities for connection. We flocked to online points of connection to keep us in touch with our friends, colleagues and family members. So I think as wild of a year that 2020 was, it certainly gave us some perspective on some of the positives of social media. However we also know that social media has some undeniable downsides…

Negatives of social media

I think these negative aspects of social media actually get quite a bit of attention, but the question is: what are we doing about them?

Are we modifying or adjusting our own usage to avoid them? Are we curating our feed to work for us instead of against us and our values? Are we thinking critically about all the information and images that we consume? Are we using social media to expand our horizons and diversify our ideas of beauty? Are we using social media as an escape from facing problems, people or issues that need our attention?

Do social media interactions replace our real-life connections and steal from our time that is needed to invest in friendships? In asking all these questions, I simply want to encourage deep and sincere reflection for all of us. I believe that social media has the potential to be a force for good, but that we have to take an active role in ensuring that this is how it’s working for us in our own lives. 

Who to Unfollow

One helpful comparison to make in understanding how we think about how to follow and unfollow accounts is thinking about how we decide which friendships are positive influences in our lives versus relationships that might need boundaries. If you went through a hard time and called a friend, but leave the conversation feeling worse than before you talked to them, maybe that’s a signal that you don’t want to call that same friend the next time you’re going through something difficult. On the other hand, if you experience something tough and you call a friend and then leave that conversation feeling encouraged, empowered and uplifted, then that’s a relationship you would want to continue to invest in and turn to.

Similarly, when using social media, if you leave someone’s profile and you feel worse about yourself, crappy, negative, disempowered, not good enough, etc. then these are clues that this probably isn’t a good account to follow. If it’s not helping you grow, feel empowered or create the kind of life that you desire, that aligns with your values, then it’s probably not the right account for you.

I love the book Beyond Beautiful and it has a wonderful section entirely on social media. The author Anuschka Rees says “Social media is a self-curated bubble. You create your own bubble and then you live in it.” One of the beautiful and beneficial things about social media is just that- you get to CREATE the bubble. You have complete authority over which accounts you follow and unfollow. Which accounts you get notifications from. Which family members you allow to show up in your newsfeed. If you can design a feed that promotes the life you want to live, that is in line with your values and doesn’t subscribe to everyone else’s ideals, then I believe social media can work for you in a great way. 

Rees encourages us to use the unfollow button liberally on any account that meets the criteria in the graphic below.

It may feel overwhelming to go through and unfollow every single account that meets this criteria, and I don’t actually recommend trying to do this in one sitting. Instead, try to take notice every time you use social media; if one post pops up that falls into the above categories, go ahead and give that account an unfollow. If you’re on the fence about an account, you can always “mute” them (on Instagram) or on Facebook you can “unfollow” them, so you remain connected as friends but won’t see any of their actions on your newsfeed. Over time as you remove these accounts, you will slowly but surely notice your feed begin to become the kind of bubble that is more life-giving and uplifting. However, to really maximize the benefit of social media specifically in promoting positive body image or self perception, the other important question that naturally follows is: 

Who to follow?

Social media gives us the unique opportunity to see a wider variety of body shapes, types, colors, abilities and sizes. Back when mass media, ads and magazines were the only place we saw other bodies portrayed in images, we had no control over what kinds of bodies we were seeing. Now, we can curate a feed that not only more accurately reflects the diversity of humans, but helps to normalize all different kinds of bodies. 

This is one of the first “exercises” I encourage my clients to do. Start actively seeking out diverse accounts to follow on social media. Most of the time, people grew up seeing only one “ideal” (?) body type portrayed in the media, and so you end up thinking there’s something wrong with you if you don’t look like that which is crap.

Not only should we follow diverse humans in our feed and real lives, but we can also decide whose advice and instruction we want to take. If you are wanting to make peace with your body and make peace with food, quit dieting and normalize eating again, you can choose to follow anti-diet, weight-inclusive dietitians, therapists and coaches. You can choose to follow fitness professionals that work with people in all bodies and focus on health, NOT appearance. You can choose to follow individuals that don’t share before and after photos, that don’t glorify any one type of body, that share about their bad days as much as they share about their good days. You can follow friends (and professionals) that post pictures of their messy house instead of just a pristine, recently remodeled kitchen. 

If you’re thinking “YES! This is exactly the kind of content I want in my feed! But how do I find these people?” I have one resource ready and waiting for you. On my list of intuitive eating and body image resources, I share some of my favorite accounts to get you started (as well as favorite books, articles, podcasts and more!) One of the benefits of starting to follow these kinds of accounts is that they are often sharing posts or tagging fellow professionals who are like-minded and whose content they support and believe in. As you find “your people” online, they will likely help you expand your horizons to include even more of those who bring their own unique wisdom and experiences to the table, all from a weight-inclusive, non-diet framework. 

Lastly, I want to leave you with this reminder: 

Social media is a tool, and it’s up to you how you use it. 

A hammer can be used to put a nail in the wall to hang a beautiful photo or piece of art. A hammer could also be used to smash a frame into a million tiny pieces, bringing destruction and mess. The same tool can accomplish either task, and it’s up to the person wielding the tool to decide how to use it. Social media is exactly the same. It can be used to bring beauty, expansion of horizons, encouragement, empowerment and diversity into your life. Or it can be used to bring comparison, body shaming, food rules, and general dissatisfaction. 

One thing you’re probably seeing a lot of right now is the idea of a DETOX: New Year’s resolutions, diet advertisements, health professionals selling you on their programs, etc. While my approach to health NEVER includes a detox, I wanted to suggest an alternative detox option, in line with our topic of discussion in this post. 

What if you detoxed from social media for a set amount of time?

If you’re feeling the need for some sort of a restart or system reboot, instead of restricting foods, could you channel this desire into a temporary step back from social media?

Consider how much time you spend on social media in a given day or week. What if you reduced that time by 5 or 10 minutes a day, by an entire hour, or cut it out completely? What could you do with that time? Could you read, make art, write a letter, be present with your family or roommate, clean your house, move your body? What activity might be more in-line with your values and how you want to live your life?

Because higher social media usage has been linked to higher rates of anxiety, depression, eating disorders and decreased physical activity, it can be helpful to get curious about how and how much you’re using it. 

Something I find fascinating from many of my clients’ experiences is this: after taking a week (or longer) off from social media- simply deleting the apps from their phones- they noticed an improvement in their body image. What could taking some time off of social media do for you? Might be worth the experiment and reflection so that as you move forward in curating your feed and choosing how to spend your time, you’re aware of the impact it has had on you in the past. 

I’m constantly deleting my social media and every time I’m so glad I did. It helps me feel more present, focused, free, and inspired. I went without social media for 1.5 years (ish) when I first got sober and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my mental health. 

In one of my recent blog posts I gave you ten ideas for things to start in the New Year instead of a diet. A few of those centered around social media and phone usage, including creating boundaries around time spent on your phone (love the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport for this), curating a feed that reflects your values and promotes a positive relationship with food and your body, and beginning your day with a morning routine that doesn’t include your phone. How much more soothing and peaceful might our day be if we didn’t let our notifications or scrolling set our tone for the day? How much of life are we possibly missing out on based on time spent on social media? How much of our self-perception and confidence (or lack thereof) is being impacted by our feeds?

You might have noticed I keep.asking.more.questions. But it’s because questions are the most valuable way for each of you individually to assess and move forward in making your own decisions around social media! I can’t tell you exactly how to do it, who exactly to follow, how many minutes you should spend per day on your phone, etc. But I believe that in honest reflection on these questions, you can make social media work for you. And if you’re ready to ditch Facebook and Instagram altogether like me, i’m all for it!

If you’re looking for somewhere to go more into depth in this exploration and help you unpack all your answers to these questions, I would love to chat with you about working with me one-on-one. Head here to read more about what that looks like to see if it seems like we may be a good fit. 

Happy social media curating!