What ‘Thinspo’ Can Do to Your Mental & Physical Health

Woman in therapy

Anorexia “thinspo” content is a dangerous digital trend of content that encourages anorexic behavior, motivating people with eating disorders to continue unhealthy habits or even adopt other harmful practices. 

This content can be incredibly damaging to a person’s mental health, especially to their sense of self-worth, and may worsen their eating disorder symptoms. 

What is ‘Thinspo’?

Thinspo is short for thinspiration, a combination of thin and inspiration

It refers to internet content that promotes or encourages unhealthy body goals, disordered eating, and similar “pro-eating disorder” habits. A significant amount of this content is produced by individuals who struggle with eating disorders themselves. Many don’t realize the damage they’re doing to their bodies and the potential harm they’re doing by creating content that encourages others to adopt practices associated with eating disorders. 

Thinspo Content May Not Be Intentionally Harmful

Not all content that might be characterized as thinspo is necessarily overtly or even intentionally encouraging self-destructive habits. 

As highlighted in a 2019 Insider article, some content creators struggling with eating disorders don’t necessarily mention disordered eating or actively encourage people to engage in that behavior. [1] Instead, the nature of their content may highlight their underweight bodies, which people struggling with eating disorders or at risk for developing eating disorders may see and aspire to achieve for themselves. 

This admittedly highlights the conversation of what should be done about this type of content, opening up the question about whether a person struggling with an eating disorder, but not necessarily encouraging others to live an unhealthy way, should be prevented from showing their bodies online if that content may be considered to put other vulnerable individuals at risk. 

It’s more apparent that content actively encouraging self-destructive behavior should be taken down, which many platforms ostensibly try to do. Still, it is often possible to find pro-eating-disorder content on many popular sites.

Person standing alone outside

What Can Thinspo Do to Someone’s Mental Health?

Thinspo content can harm people’s mental health, especially vulnerable groups such as young girls. Many teenagers fall down a rabbit hole of thinspo internet content, which can significantly distort how they view their bodies and what they see as the ideal body type. 

Research has suggested that while this content doesn’t generally cause eating disorders, it may encourage them. It can also make it more difficult for a person to see they have a severe mental health problem, delaying treatment. [2]

What often happens to people with eating disorders is they slowly create an online “echo chamber” for themselves, entering digital spaces where other people struggling with eating disorders encourage disordered behavior and normalize unhealthy habits. In addition, people with eating disorders often get into a competitive mindset, comparing their bodies to each other and trying to “beat” others regarding weight goals and calorie intake. 

Can Thinspo Content Impact Your Physical Health?

While looking at and reading thinspiration content can’t directly affect your physical health, eating disorders can. Content that encourages disordered eating behaviors and causes people to adopt destructive habits or continue them can negatively impact their health. 

Reducing Your Risk of Anorexia

When trying to reduce your risk of anorexia, self-awareness is essential. Try to acknowledge when you’re thinking negatively about your body or growing anxious about food. 

Only read evidence-based guides on healthy eating and listen to medical experts and what they consider an ideal weight range for someone of your body type. If you want to aim for weight goals below this range or adopt eating habits that differ from what experts consider healthy, talk to a mental health professional before these thoughts translate into problematic behaviors.

Body positivity has also been shown to reduce a person’s risk of developing an eating disorder, including anorexia. [3] Many people, especially women, are surrounded by unrealistic images of bodies, such as in social media and movies, that can damage their self-image. Content that works to combat people’s misconceptions about what a normal, healthy body looks like can help reduce a person’s risk of developing an eating disorder.

In this digital age, it’s crucial to “tend one’s own garden,” monitoring the content you’re consuming. Often, the more of a particular type of content a person consumes, the more various algorithms that determine what content you’re shown will show similar content. 

Work to avoid consuming content that makes you feel like you need to adopt unhealthy habits and may make you feel bad about your appearance. 

Person thinking

Getting Help for Anorexia

Seeking help for anorexia is the first significant step in the recovery process and also one of the most difficult to take. If you believe you have anorexia or any other eating disorder, acknowledging it and choosing to talk to a mental health professional is an important decision.

The best place to start seeking help often depends on the severity of your symptoms. Call an eating disorder treatment hotline or discuss your options with your doctor if you’re unsure.

Regardless of the type of treatment pursued, anorexia is a treatable mental health disorder. [4] With the proper guidance and support, people with anorexia can live long, happy lives in recovery. The key is to take the first step toward getting treatment.

Inpatient Treatment

For people who are dangerously underweight or cannot function in their everyday life due to their eating disorders, it may be best to look for inpatient treatment facilities that provide focused, around-the-clock care. This intensive treatment will help you recover to a point where you are in less danger and have more control over your life. 

Outpatient Treatment

People with less severe symptoms may begin with an outpatient treatment program. A mental health professional specializing in eating disorders can help identify problematic thought patterns and teach tools that lead to healthier thinking and behavior.

Resources


  1. Dodgson L. (2019). An Extremely Thin YouTube Star Disappeared from the Internet, but People with Eating Disorders Are Still Getting ‘Thinspiration’ from Her Videos. Insider. 
  2. Mento C, Silvestri MC, Muscatello MRA, Rizzo A, Celebre L, Praticò M, Zoccali RA, Bruno A. (2021). Psychological Impact of Pro-Anorexia and Pro-Eating Disorder Websites on Adolescent Females: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(4):2186. 
  3. Body Positivity May Reduce Eating Disorder Risk. (2018). Union College.
  4. Resmark G, Herpertz S, Herpertz-Dahlmann B, Zeeck A. (2019). Treatment of Anorexia Nervosa-New Evidence-Based Guidelines. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 8(2):153.

Last Update | 11 - 7 - 2022

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