Nutritionists have told Sky News they believe certain accounts on social media platforms like Instagram are to blame for the rise in people with eating disorders like orthorexia.
Rhiannon Lambert who is a nutritionist on London’s Harley Street told Sky News: “Instagram is dangerous when it comes to food, so dangerous.
“For somebody that’s suffering from any type of mental health illness, especially orthorexia, with the variety of influencers claiming that what they eat can heal something or solve something, that’s not necessarily true and it can cause a condition to get even worse.”
Orthorexia is a condition which was discovered by a scientist in 1997 – it’s when someone becomes obsessed with eating healthily, restricting their diets so much that they become unhealthy and starved. It can often result in serious illness, both mentally and physically.
And while many eating disorders are recognised by doctors in a clinical setting, orthorexia still isn’t.
Ms Lambert said: “It’s almost a little bit worrying that orthorexia is still not seen as an actual eating disorder.
“I’ve seen the catastrophic impact on clients every day in my clinic and I’m also contacted frequently across social media from people who are struggling and feel like they’re not being listened to.”
The number of people developing orthorexia is increasing, and nutritionists believe it’s down to platforms like Instagram and in particular those with profiles that influence people. Many of these influencers are not qualified nutritionists or dietitians and as a result often promote wrong things to those who are vulnerable.
Ms Lambert added: “I think social media is one of the biggest contributors to mental health illness, especially in terms of orthorexia. We have a long way to go.”
Pixie Turner developed orthorexia six years ago when she was 20 years old – she was influenced into eating healthy through accounts on Instagram and as a result, she herself became an influencer.
She told Sky News: “I created an Instagram account after looking at these shiny and happy people who looked so perfect. Once I started posting these food pictures, my following grew really quickly. I got 50,000 followers in a year.
“All this beautiful validation I was getting from the follows and likes made me feel amazing.”
But at the time of her Instagram success, Ms Turner didn’t know that her unqualified approach to healthy eating was influencing many who followed her.
She added: “I was happy at the time that I was helping other people eat ‘healthier’. I thought that was all a good thing. I was in a mindset where I thought I knew more than my GP, and looking back that’s so delusional.
But now Ms Turner uses her story as an influencee and influencer to help others falling victim to orthorexia.
“I recognise that I did something that was very harmful,” she told Sky News.
“I’ve been very honest and public about it for that reason. But I have so much anger still at these people who with no qualifications and no expertise whatsoever put me in this position where I was harming myself and others.
“And that anger, I now try and use it in the most productive way possible, and that’s why I think I do what I do.”
When asked whether she believed those who she influenced would be “angry” with her, she said: “Yes, and that is totally valid and I accept that fully.”
In a statement Instagram told Sky News: “We do not allow content on Instagram that promotes eating disorders and we remove any content that does. This is something we really care about, so we work with outside experts to make sure our policies are working and to help us improve.”