Instagram to make Diet Ads viewable for ages 18 and over—Why They should Remove Them Altogether

by Carolyn Hersh, LCSW

Instagram to make Diet Ads viewable for ages 18 and over—Why They should Remove Them Altogether
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

On September 18th, 2019 Instagram instituted an official policy that all ads promoting diet and weight loss products would only be able to be viewed by users 18 and over. Any ads that have false claims can be reported and subject to removal. This is a huge victory in the world of challenging diet culture. For years, celebrities and social media influencers have been advertising diet and weight loss products that, for the most part, are bogus, promise false results and can be just downright dangerous to someone’s physical and mental health.

Most celebrities who promote these products are doing so for a paycheck and not because they are actually finding these products useful. Unfortunately, advertisements like these can impact impressionable viewers, especially those struggling with poor body image, disordered eating and eating disorders. And while the celebrities may say, “Take this and look like me,” the reality is that these products have no true evidence that they can change anyone.

Emma Collins, Instagram’s public policy manager, made a statement after this policy went into effect, “We want Instagram to be a positive place for everyone that uses it and this policy is part of our ongoing work to reduce the pressure that people can sometimes feel as a result of social media.” While this is a great step forward, it does feel like the next step should be eliminating diet and weight loss products altogether.

There are some major problems with advertising weight loss products. As a Health at Every Size® activist and promoter of body positivity, I can tell you that these products merely reinforce the idea that your body isn’t good enough. They teach that there is only one ideal body, and usually, it is the body of the celebrity promoting the product. It can be really dangerous to tell people that tea will flatten their stomachs or a lollipop will give them curves in the “right” places.

These advertisements put people at risk for developing eating disorders. They promote the very behaviors that are symptoms of eating disorders. These products try to normalize appetite suppression or compensating for what one has eaten via a laxative pill or tea. The messages are not health-promoting. They reinforce diet culture beliefs of certain foods being bad and needing to atone for eating.

A major issue is that there is absolutely no evidence that the products being advertised actually help with weight loss, detoxing your body of toxins, or changing the shape of your body. Most of these products are not even approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA is charged with regulating medications and while there are a few that have been approved, most that are advertised on social media are not. Most of these products carry false claims and use ingredients that can be more harmful than helpful. And that is a huge problem.

We do not often see celebrities sharing disclaimers of potential side effects from using these products. Diet pills may increase heart rate, heart palpitations, the likelihood of a stroke, and even death. The detox teas carry the risk of dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and stripping our guts of the nutrients we need. Side effects can also include an increase in stomach cramping, bloating, and diarrhea. Our bodies were designed to naturally flush out toxins. It is why we have a liver. And for those users of the products looking for a way to lose weight, well the weight “lost” from these teas are usually just water or stool mass. These products place a huge toll on the body and put vital organs at risk.

For these reasons, we should not only be protecting social media users who are under 18. We should be protecting everyone from viewing these ads. Adults are probably more likely to purchase these products and adults are just as susceptible to false promises as adolescents. It is great that places like Instagram are giving us a choice if we want to view these ads. It is definitely a step in the right direction. But, there is nothing safe about these products. From taking a physical toll on our bodies to mentally placing shame on our bodies there is no room for diet pills, detox teas, or any other weight loss product.

If you are currently struggling with how you feel about your body, help is available through support groups, therapy, and even body-positive accounts and groups on social media. The wonderful thing about social media is that there is a community for promoting Health at Every Size® and working on self-love and acceptance. Most of these groups do not cost anything and can have to have positive effects on your mind and body.

Curate Your Feed with Diverse Body Positive Accounts on Instagram

Photo, Resilient Fat Goddess Instagram

by Sarah Thompson, Resilient Fat Goddess and Lauren Muhlheim, Eating Disorder Therapy LA

“Body positivity can’t be just about thin, straight, cisgendered, white women who became comfortable with an additional ten pounds on their frame.” —Stacey Rosenfeld, Ph.D., Shape magazine (July, 2018).

Eating disorders are about so much more than body image, but the current diet culture, idealization of the thin ideal, and “war on obesity” make it much harder for people with eating disorders to recover. We are barraged on a daily basis by media images of people who represent only a small portion of the population.

As Dr. Muhlheim discussed in a previous post about fat photography, the mainstream media images we see are not diverse, and the images we do see of larger bodies are often portrayed in a particularly negative and stigmatizing way, adding fuel to the fire.

Thus, an important exercise for people of all sizes in recovery is to curate their social media feed by removing accounts that perpetuate the thin ideal and expand the range of body sizes and types to which one is exposed. Adding diversity to your social media feed isn’t only important for people in recovery, it can be just as important for partners as Sarah Thompson wrote about here. It would even be useful for parents and family members of those recovering.

The term used to describe the absence of representation in media was coined by George Gerbner in 1972. This phenomenon is “symbolic annihilation.” Gerbner was a Hungarian Jewish immigrant and communications professor who researched the influence of television trends on viewers’ perceptions of the world. According to Coleman and Yochim, Gerbner explained that “representation in the fictional world signifies social existence; absence means symbolic annihilation.” Representations, or lack thereof, lead to assumptions about how the world works and who holds power.

Gerbner did not assign symbolic annihilation to any particular group, so it has since been applied to many different identities. We can apply the concept to non-dominant systemic identities, such as larger bodied people, people of color, trans and gender-expansive people, disabled people, etc. If we don’t see bodies like our own represented, we may come to believe “my body doesn’t matter”. Often, this can turn into “I don’t matter”. This means that for people whose bodies are marginalized in any way, it is essential to see images of people that look like them.

We have developed a roundup of Instagram accounts to help you on the journey. While it is not comprehensive, it is a starting point. What follows are some Instagram accounts that show body-positive images that celebrate diverse bodies in ways that mainstream media does not.

At the time of this posting, these accounts are free of body shaming, fat shaming, food shaming, and disordered eating. Some are people in recovery from eating disorders. If we missed one of your favorite accounts that consistently publishes photos of bodies at the margins, please email us and let us know!

Larger-bodied women

@madeonagenerousplan

@iamdaniadriana

@themilitantbaker

@fatgirlflow

@fatwomenofcolor

@cosmiccollette

@bampowlife

@danielle_bex

@fatlippodcast

@shesallfatpod

Larger-bodied men

@bigboysarecute

@johnasavoia

@abearnamedtroy

@chubstr

@bear_skn

@zachmiko

@300poundsandrunning

People of color

@iamivyfelicia

@onebeautifulyes

@thefriendineverwanted

@nalgonapositivitypride

@sonyareneetaylor

@virgietovar

@genizeribeiro

@ihartericka

@diannebondyyoga

@mynameisjessamyn

@biggalyoga

@sassy_latte

@adydelvalle_

@melissadtoler

Gender diverse people

@transfolxfightingeds

@comfyfattravels

@chairbreaker

@thirdwheeled

@alokvmenon

@nonnormativebodyclub

@shooglet

@resilientfatgoddess

@thefatsextherapist

@watchshayslay

Older people

@efftheiragingstandards

@idaho_amy

@lamplight.space

@gidget3304

@glitterglama

@fruitbat5150

@26kleisen

@finally_bopo

People with disabilities

@the_feeding_of_the_fox

@dietitiananna

@theonearmedwonder

@rollettes_la

@disabilityisdiversity

@the_hapless_roller

@spookyfatbabe

@disabled_fashion

@princesscakep0p

@everybodyisworthy

Multiple Identities

@thebodyisnotanapology

@decolonizingfitness

@subversesirens

@fatkiddanceparty

@adipositivity

@underneath_we_are_women

@lkt_consulting

@flourorchalk

Other body positive accounts to follow

@sweetamaranth

@iamannachapman

@nolatrees

@bopolena

@bopo_watercolour

@shoogsart

@shelby.bergen

@neoqlassicalart

@lovefromdanica

@bopo.boy

Source

Coleman and Yochim. The Symbolic Annihilation of Race: A Review of the “Blackness” Literature. Perspectives. Spring 2008. http://www.rcgd.isr.umich.edu/prba/perspectives/spring%202008/Means%20Coleman-Yochim.pdf

Presentation on Social Media for Psychologists

Slide1

 

Reprinted from the Rutgers GSAPP website:  
Dr. Lauren Muhlheim
“Use of Social Media by Professional Psychologists”

 

On Wednesday March 27, 2014, faculty and students at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology (GSAPP) gathered to hear a colloquium presentation by Lauren Muhlheim, Psy.D, CEDS (Clinical, 1995). Dr. Muhlheim is a prominent GSAPP alumna who has a practice in Los Angeles where she provides psychological treatment specializing in evidence-based cognitive behavioral psychotherapy for adults and adolescents with depression, anxiety, stress, and eating disorders. She presented on the topic of “Use of Social Media by Psychologists in a Safe and Ethical Way.”

After earning a B.A. from Princeton University, Dr. Muhlheim attended the doctoral program in Clinical Psychology at GSAPP. She chose GSAPP because she was “impressed by the quality and depth of the clinical training” and knew that she wanted to work in clinical settings. As a graduate student, Dr. Muhlheim trained in the Rutgers Eating Disorder Clinic. In interview, she shared her favorite memory of GSAPP to be working with Terry Wilson, Ph.D., an internationally renowned eating disorders expert. More recently, Dr. Muhlheim trained in the Maudsley Family-Based Treatment (FBT) for adolescent eating disorders and is certified in FBT by the Training Institute for Child and Adolescent Eating Disorders. She is also certified as an eating disorder specialist (CEDS) by the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals (IAEDP). Dr. Muhlheim has been providing psychological counseling since 1991. She has also supervised and trained psychology interns and other mental health professionals.

Dr. Muhlheim’s work experience has brought her to multiple settings around the globe. For nearly ten years, she was a staff psychologist at Los Angeles County Jail, followed by three years in Shanghai, China, treating clients of varying national, cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. Dr. Muhlheim spearheaded and served as the first president of the Shanghai International Mental Health Association (SIMHA). She has also worked in an Obesity Research Clinic, inpatient hospitals, outpatient clinics, group homes, and private practice.

Dr. Mulheim’s experiences abroad proved to be a portal for her into the world of social media. In her colloquium presentation, she reflected on her years in Shanghai: “That’s where I first became aware of the power of the internet.” She described how she used search engine optimization to attract international patients to their practice website, as well as commented on the challenges she faced when China blocked Facebook.

In 2012, Dr. Muhlheim joined the social media committee of the Academy for Eating Disorders. She served as a co-chair of AED’s Social Media Committee, AED’s Membership Recruitment and Retention Committee, and AED’s FBT Special Interest Group. In her role as a co-chair of the Social Media Committee for the Academy for Eating Disorders, she helped manage the AED’s Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter pages, and helped educate professional AED members about social media. More recently, Dr. Muhlheim has stepped up to the position of Director for Outreach with the board of AED.

Over the course of her talk, Dr. Muhlheim educated the audience about social media from a variety of angles. She presented an overview of current technology, reasons why to be on social media, and recommendations for using social media safely and ethically. Loaded with valuable information and insights, her approach was also light and entertaining. She started out her presentation by differentiating among the various social media formats: “Facebook: I like donuts,” “LinkedIn: My skills include donut eating,” and “Twitter: I’m eating a donut.” Although the list of social media sites was lengthy, Dr. Muhlheim chose to highlight Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter in particular.

Citing commentary from the APA Monitor, Dr. Muhlheim presented a general outlook on social networking in the world of professional psychology. A rising number of people are turning to the internet for health information, she noted. As the use of social media is growing, psychological professionals are increasingly using media. Graduate students use social media but often lack guidance, because supervising faulty are less experienced with it. She presented the Social Media Ladder as one way to view online participation, showing how people move from being passively involved to being actively involved, actually becoming content creators.

Why is it important to be on social media? According to Dr. Muhlheim, social media helps us stay informed, make connections, meet patients where they are, build a “brand,” learn new information (e.g., “Tweetchats”), disseminate information, advocate for causes, and market products or services. These concepts came alive as Dr. Muhlheim expounded with personal anecdotes and colorful screenshots. “The more online real estate you control, the better,” she explained, “And one way you control your online real estate is through social media.”

Perhaps the crux of her presentation dealt with the safe and ethical use of social media. APA has not yet published guidelines for psychologists’ use of social media, Dr. Muhlheim pointed out. Subsequently, Dr. Muhlheim shared the social media guidelines published in 2010 by American Medical Association, illustrating how these principles apply to her as a professional.

First, she advised, be sure to separate personal and professional content. Keep a personal facebook page for social connections and create a separate practice page for your practice. Create two email address, and do not allow clients to friend you on Facebook. Second, use privacy settings—and don’t rely on even the most restrictive settings as being absolutely secure. Third, routinely monitor your own internet presence, such as by doing a Google search or checking online rating agencies. Fourth, protect patient confidentiality. Per Dr. Muhlheim’s advice, clarify your social media policy for googling, friending, and following; incorporate it into your informed consent for clients. Fifth, maintain appropriate boundaries. Sixth, remember your career and reputation when using social media. In her words, “Think twice, and tweet once.”

Listeners gleaned a variety of handy tips and bits for using social media to advance professional practice. For instance, use LinkedIn as a virtual rolodex to connect with colleagues. Strive for search engine optimization – increase your visibility on other sites and update your site frequently. Utilize twitter as a great way to share articles and stay current, and as an expedient alternative to blogging.

When asked about the challenges of being involved in social media, Dr. Muhlheim stated, “I think the greatest challenge of social media for psychological practitioners today is the fear/resistance many have to using it.” Her advice for current GSAPP students? “Plan to have an online presence” and “be willing to explore and use social media and other new technologies, such as apps.”

Dr. Mulheim’s presentation generated a wave of questions from the audience on the applications of social media to professional practice. In response to concerns over privacy on Facebook, Dr. Mulheim recommended using the most restrictive privacy and security settings, while noting that privacy settings are imperfect. “Assume anything you publish behind a privacy setting will leak.” Further, she recommended that professionals post only that which they can stand behind with integrity. Finally, Dr. Muhlheim responded to questions about the psychological implications of Facebook use on eating disorders. The discussion was thought-provoking and dynamic, as a room of psychology professionals aired concerns over the ramifications of social media use for children and adolescents.

At the end of her presentation, Dr. Muhlheim shared her social media rendition of a bibliography – a link to her Pinterest page. An exuberant round of applause followed, as GSAPP faculty and students acknowledged Dr. Muhlheim’s cutting-edge contributions to the field of professional psychology.

Dr. Muhlheim can be reached by email at drmuhlheim@gmail.com 
or visited at:

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

Tumblir

LinkedIN

By: Chana Crystal, GSAPP