Ask Julia: Is Instagramming all your food an eating disorder?

3 min read

Dear Julia:

My daughter’s friend has an eating disorder that she was hospitalized for last year. The friend talks about herself in terms I associate with people recovering from addiction, which is good, right? However, I’m concerned about some new behavior I’m seeing in my daughter since they’ve been hanging out a lot more. Lately my daughter has been photographing all her food and putting it on Instagram. She lines up each dish, makes sure each leaf is just right, and if she doesn’t like the result, she’ll start over again with a new plate. How can I tell if she’s a budding photo journalist, or if this is a sign of having control issues with her food?

Greetings KR,

Without knowing your daughter’s friend, or having any context around her diagnosis or recovery, it is hard to say. I’m wondering if this friend also photographs her meals and puts them on Instagram? If so, this is a common behavior among the eating disorder recovery community. Many people use social media to connect with other individuals struggling with, or recovering from, eating disorders and other mental health issues. To be honest, I’m not entirely convinced that it is healthy to be so hyper-focused on food (and social media) during or after recovery.

Researchers from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in the UK recently published a report titled “#StatusOfMind“, which examined how young people interact with social media. They found Instagram to be the most detrimental to mental health, citing the app has a profound negative impact on depression, anxiety, body image, sleep, cyberbullying, and FoMO (aka – Fear of Missing Out). However, researchers also found benefits to social media consumption, including the ability for youth to freely express themselves, access other people’s experiences with health/mental health conditions, and find emotional support during challenging times. In response to their findings, the RSPH is advocating for social media apps to include excessive usage warnings, notification pop-ups on digitally altered photographs, and trainings for teachers and students on safe social media consumption – all positive steps.

Concerning your daughter, I think the crux is the time spent engaging in this behavior and her motive/s behind it.

  • When did she begin photographing her food?
  • Does her friend do this too?
  • Can she enjoy a meal without announcing what she is eating to her virtual world?
  • How does she react to likes and comments?
  • Is she eating her meals or just preparing them to photograph?
  • Do her other friends do this too?

I think it is wise to keep an eye out on her, and if you are concerned, let her know. Perhaps talk to her about the #StatusOfMind report; it has engaging graphics and could be a great conversation starter about what she and her friends experience using social media. Also, I highly recommend checking out resources from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), including warning signs and symptoms of eating disorders. NEDA has a plethora of insightful resources for parents, friends, and families that may be beneficial to both of you.


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Dr. Julia V. Taylor is a Counselor Educator at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. She is author of The Body Image Workbook for Teens, The Bullying Workbook for Teens, Salvaging Sisterhood, G.I.R.L.S: Group Counseling Activities for Enhancing Social and Emotional Development, and a children’s book, Perfectly You.  She can be reached at

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