Nalini*, a performing arts student at Delhi University would look away from dance reels trending online featuring thin bodies. Nalini had always been fond of dancing, but once her post attracted negative comments, she stopped creating choreographies entirely. “You cannot escape body shaming on social media. Now I feel a panic attack coming on every time I am in front of the mirror.”
Professor Richard Wiseman, a British social psychologist, on his ‘On Your Mind’ podcast with host Marnie Chesterton, said eating with your non-dominant hand could be a quicker trick for weight loss than going to the gym or counting calories. He also recommended we keep a mirror in the kitchen so that our own reflections can stop us from eating less.
Wiseman also recalled American psychologist Brad Bushman’s “mirror theory,” as another mindful eating tactic.
Back in 1998, Bushman had conducted research whereby people ate food in front of a mirror. The study found that participants in front of mirrors ate fewer full-fat foods than those in the no-mirror group. Wiseman explained, “As soon as people could see their own reflection, they became more self-conscious, and they shifted to healthier food.”
What Wiseman calls ‘mindful eating’ as a key to a healthier lifestyle, however, could be exacerbating weight-related anxieties in those desperately searching for “solutions” online. In fact, Pooja Deshpande, Psychologist and expert working with body image issues cautioned, “A psychologist having a podcast that discourages eating is dangerous. The way we eat has to do with our mental health. Behavioural prescriptions add to the cycle of guilt and shame.”
Apeksha Thakkar, Clinical Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator argues that the only logic behind eating with your non-dominant hand is common sense because a person struggling to eat will eat less. “Physiologically or biologically I cannot claim it to be correct; but from a challenge perspective, it may slow down your eating pace,” said Thakkar.
In fact, four out of nine people that Decode spoke to, shared their experiences with Body Dysmorphic Disorder that they felt was impacted greatly by social media.
Psychologist Pooja Deshpande clarified, “Body dysmorphic disorder is understood as a sub-section of obsessive-compulsive disorders (DSM 5).” According to her, it is a disorder in which an individual is preoccupied with the perceived flaws or defects in their body. This is coined as a disorder because it can actually impair an individual’s everyday functioning and hamper their personal, social, academic, career and intimate life.
“Social media today is holding hands with heavy editing tools. These tools obviously aimed at ‘correcting body-related flaws’, lighting or encouraging the idea of better angles can create more anxiety or preoccupation for some suffering from BDD.”
Similarly, Shabari, a US-based psychologist believes that social media sells an illusion of perfection and pushes a thin body as the ideal. So those peddling quick fixes to attract people struggling with preexisting body image issues, contribute negatively to their well-being. “There are social media profiles that treat anorexia as normal. Which we know is deadly.”
She adds that constant exposure to images of idealized bodies and fitness achievements can trigger feelings of anxiety, depression and self-doubt. “If they have any sensitivity, then the algorithm will pick it up and reinforce those beliefs. “Because social media is geared towards exacerbating mental illnesses, I recommend abstinence to someone struggling,” said Shabari.
Pooja calls the idea of weight loss influencing “dysfunctional”; the problem is that it is geared toward weight loss and not overall good health. Pooja advised, “To remind your client with tools that social media is an incredibly tailored platform.” If you find yourself being triggered by social media, you need to pay attention and do deeper work.
Decode spoke to individuals about online weight loss tips they have been influenced by and then had these tips verified by nutritionists. We also spoke to experts about body dysmorphia and the potential risk of social media for someone struggling.
Chewing ice to fibre supplements–weight loss tips plague social media
Prerna became a mother last year and after three busy months of childcare, she returned to work. “Between house chores and office work, I have no time to go to the gym. So I began looking for tips on Instagram and Facebook.” Prerna shared a tip she could very easily get into the habit of following: to “keep yourself busy to control snacking or overeating”.
Post-pregnancy, Prerna started to feel nervous about going out, because she felt underconfident about the way she looked. She would find people wanting to take pictures with her offensive. “I used Instagram to watch others and the world hates bellies. I would never upload a single picture.”
Santhosh began his weight loss journey post-Covid. “I was doing my master’s during covid and so we had no classes. I put on more weight during lockdown.” For quick and easy tips, Santhosh began calorie counting and chewing gum whenever he felt hungry.
Thakkar denied the claim that gums induce weight loss. “Chewing gum stimulates your taste buds, however, there is no scientific evidence that it reduces your appetite.” Not to forget, gums are high in sugar content, so there can be a reverse effect on the body.
Similarly, Piyush had heard that chewing on ice could provide a feeling of fullness to the stomach without actually consuming any food. “I keep crushed ice with me whenever I feel peckish for food. This way I am able to control excessive snacking,” Piyush said.
For a few years now, Piyush has been fixating on his weight gain. According to Santhosh, the only way he would feel comfortable looking in the mirror was if he wore darker colours to look thinner. “Male bodies that are not built at the gym are not celebrated. And now I am too conscious to even go to the gym,” he explained.
According to Thakkar, people may feedback that these temporarily satiate their need to snack. “If you constantly keep your mouth busy, it becomes a behavioural technique to control your own eating–but not a solution for all,” she explained.
Another common substitute for food that individuals reported using was fibre supplements. Jahnvi, a Pune resident said, “Unless you overdo it, it’s very healthy for you. Because we’re not able to consume a lot of fibre daily.” In fact, Jahnvi’s assortment of supplements is recommended by top influencers on her feed.
Whole foods are natural with better nutrient profiles. Physiologically your body is designed to take nutrients to the maximum capacity through whole foods. “Supplements can be added to your routine under supervision, but relying on them is not sustainable and starves your body,” said Thakkar.
Chandrani, a student from Kolkata admitted to following the habit of apple cider vinegar in the morning, followed by only lime water during lunchtime. “I have heard of lemon’s detoxifying properties that neutralise stomach acids when I am hungry, thereby controlling my urge to eat.” Her words echo fitness experts on social media advocating for “liquid diets” as a quick tip to losing weight.
Thakkar said, “Lemon is acidic before you consume it, but after it enters your body it has an alkalising effect. So it helps in detoxification.” But it wouldn’t work unless your overall health is taken care of; adding that these are all tricks to prevent yourself from eating well and unhealthily reducing body fat.
Chandrani admitted, that although not diagnosed with a disorder, all she can think about sometimes is weight loss. She recalled one night when she got so frustrated while brushing her hair that she burst into tears, panicked, and thought she looked too ugly to be around anyone.
Experts Explain The “Mindful Eating” Trend
Social media fitness experts and nutritionists often quote the hashtag “mindful eating”. But what does it mean to eat mindfully?
Roshni Sanghvi, a registered Holistic Nutritionist says mindful eating is a technique for weight management and disease reversal. “When you watch a movie and you have a bag of popcorn, you’ll finish it in 30 mins. Popcorn is hyper-palatable, but you will not be able to finish it without a screen,” Sanghvi explained.
With over 26,000 followers on Instagram and 12,000 clients, Sanghvi encourages mindful eating within a community setting rather than in front of a television. “This also promotes a lot of conversations that release hormones that take care of digestion.”
Sanghvi also adds that no matter how one’s nutrition plan is, it depends entirely on the person following it. For instance, many people associate eating with emotional connections and personal traumas. “We have clinical psychologists working with Psychodietics to get to the root cause and help a client understand that nothing is their fault,” said Sanghvi.
In today’s world, you have the financial freedom to order food at your fingertips. It becomes harder to maintain self-discipline.
However, Pooja Deshpande argued, “Mindfulness is about being present in your current situation. It’s a tool that is helpful if credible professionals facilitate it. But when used by social media influencers with no experience, it could get dangerous.”The Fad Of Mindful Eating Is Causing Body Dysmorphia
Mindfulness eating is not a treatment, but you can use it to influence people. To understand what it entails, it has to come from credible professionals and not as a trend on social media, she said.
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