Setting Boundaries: Instagram and Eating Disorder Recovery

Written by: Natalie Dormady, contributing writer.  Follow more of her story on her Instagram, @littlearthlings.  

I followed a link on Pinterest the other day to find a post titled, “Toxic relationships and Setting Healthy Boundaries in Recovery.” I was intrigued – something in me knew I had to read this article. When sitting down to write this post, I intended to write about taking small steps towards trusting myself and celebrating the tiny victories. But after reading the post from Pinterest, I decided to switch gears a little. The article I found on Pinterest talked about setting healthy boundaries in relationships. This resonated with me as I’ve been learning how to trust myself in knowing when a boundary needs to be enforced, but specifically in the virtual world – the Instagram world.

When I was engaging in disordered behaviours, it was hard to see that some relationships were unhealthy and quite toxic to my recovery. At first, I refused to view them as toxic. And yet these relationships were not benefiting me in recovery and instead were triggering my disordered voice. Recognizing they were, in fact, toxic, and I could consciously choose to let them go, marked a first step towards bettering myself and my mental health. Trusting that I was capable, and allowed to, set a boundary was scary and tough. Some relationships I had on Instagram were also relationships I had in the real world. I followed friends from high school, college and family members whose accounts did not allow me to have a safe virtual space. I was more worried about their perception of me than putting my recovery, and myself, first.

My relationship with Instagram has been a bit messy. When I was struggling with my eating disorder, I used Instagram as a place of comfort. Or more accurately, my disorder used it as a place of comfort. I used to follow a lot of accounts that were fitness and diet oriented and accounts also struggling with their disorders. I found a false sense of comfort in seeing that I wasn’t alone. When I would scroll through my feed, I saw and read the very things that fed my disorder. Look this way and eat this way and she’s doing this and why am I not at the gym and they had a bad day so it’s fine if I do…the thoughts were never-ending. My virtual environment was not a safe space for me. For my disorder, yes, but not for me. Once I realized my relationship with Instagram was hindering my recovery, I accepted that I had to, and more importantly, was allowed to, make changes.

To set boundaries on Instagram, I asked myself, why do I follow these accounts? Do I like their posts? How do they make ME feel, rather than how do they make my disorder feel? I trusted that I had my recovery in mind. I trusted myself to know that I deserve a safe space. I let go of one triggering account and swapped it for a really funny, cute dog account. I like dogs, and animals, and nature, so if I’m going to go on social media, why not watch and see and read posts that I actually enjoy? The next day I remember unfollowing every account that made me feel invalid or like I needed to change something about myself in order to be accepted. It felt like a rock was lifted from my chest. When I scroll through my feed now, I see videos of dogs doing strange things, wonderful paintings and doodles, mountains and oceans. I’m reading captions that inspire me, rather than the disorder. My virtual space has become a safe place for me.

“Boundaries are part of self-care. They are healthy, normal, and necessary.”

-Doreen Virtue

We are not obligated to follow anyone. It took me some time to realize this, and I’m still reminding myself and working on it. That’s okay. Unfollowing someone doesn’t make you a bad or mean person, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t like them. You have every right to curate your feed with images and captions that make you feel inspired and happy. Your mental health is so important, you are so important.


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