YORK, Pa. — Nearly thirty million Americans suffer from an eating disorder, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, and now, a national survey conducted by the Renfrew Center, the nation's first residential eating disorder facility, cites one main reason why that could be: social media.
"I'll look at my followers or who I'm following and if I start to have a judgmental thought, I like to unfollow them," Mia Kennedy, an eating disorder survivor told FOX43. It's the 19-year-old's best piece of advice for using social media without it negatively impacting your body image.
"When you're constantly scrolling, it's like this quick moving onto the next thing, your brain absorbs so much where sometimes you're not even thinking about it and you just assume this is the standard," she said.
This is one of the many things Kennedy learned at The Renfrew Center during her seven-week stay to treat her eating disorder: Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).
"I would fear choking on food or going into anaphylactic shock, to the point where I cut out a bunch of foods from my diet," she said. "I lost a lot of weight because of that, I would experience heart palpitations and I was dizzy and I was tired, but in my head, I was protecting myself."
Kennedy was only 17 when she lost over a third of her body weight and entered treatment, but she says she doesn't necessarily blame social media for the rise in eating disorders.
"It can be very positive and very good, or it can be very negative and very bad, very being the key word, and it can go either way," Kennedy said. "If you choose to look at social media like it is your goal, that's when it becomes really unhealthy."
For her, it's been mostly positive.
"I found support groups, I found other people who were struggling with ARFID," she said. "It gave me a sense that I'm not alone in this."
The Renfrew Center has four locations in Pennsylvania alone. Since 1985, the owners of the nonprofit have focused on empowering women to change their lives.
"Social media is not reality, it's something that can be altered like a film reel," Kristin Szostak, LPC, regional assistant vice president for the Renfrew Center said. From filters to intense editing, there's a good chance you've seen what she's talking about.
"No one is posting their worst days on social media," Szostak said. "We're posting the days that we look best and the days that we look happiest, so it leads to an almost rabbit hole of comparison. It's especially a concern for younger kids, who are getting access to social media earlier in life than ever before and they don't have the emotional maturity to really discern that it's all fake."
Szostak advises talking to your kids as early as possible about the dangers of social media, and if you suspect they may have an eating disorder, get help.
There are treatment facilities all across the country, including the Renfrew Center where Kennedy went in Philadelphia.
"They completely changed my life and it's because of Renfrew that I'm literally here today and loving life," she said.
For more information on the Renfrew Center, click here.