Social Media Comparisons and Beyond

Contributing Author: Isabelle Wilson

Social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok and whatever else is out there (I don’t even know what else is cool now) are here to stay for quite a while. If you’re like me and really wish social media would just go away, this post is for you.

I think most of us can agree that using social media puts us into “compare mode” with others. I talk with a lot of my clients about whether they think social media is negatively affecting how they feel about their bodies and their food choices; 75% say “yes, absolutely.” But I don’t think I need to write an entire blog post to convince anyone that excessive social media use is bad for body image. Most of us know that we are only seeing highlight reels of the people we follow, the highly edited and filtered pictures and videos (check out @Danaemercer on Instagram for a real good look at this), and picture number 150 in a sequence of identical photos trying to achieve the “perfect shot.” I want to use this blog post instead as more of a life-coaching moment from someone who was (and sometimes still is) trapped in the trance of social media, like most of you probably are as well.

Last year, I decided I couldn’t keep the social media apps on my iPhone anymore. I didn’t have the guts to completely delete my accounts [I do legitimately use Facebook for my business, and I learn a ton from reputable dietitians who are crushing Instagram], but I couldn’t keep the apps on my home screen any longer. I was so sick of myself when I would click on the app at totally inappropriate times and start scrolling; like out on a hike with my family or in the middle of dinner. I was sick of the mindless scroll, wasting time, and feeling disconnected (ironic, because isn’t social media supposed to make us feel connected?).

We live in a world where we are constantly comparing. It’s part of human nature to compare yourself to others (Food Heaven Podcast did a great episode on this with Marci Evans, RD; S3 E156, if you’re interested!) – but the constant comparison we are forced into using social media is just such a downer. I found myself comparing not my body, but my business, my social life [or lack thereof, as a new mom at the time with a full time business to run], my competence as a mother, and as silly as it sounds, my home decor! Seeing what other RDs who literally run their business on Instagram were doing lead to quite a case of imposter syndrome for me. Seeing my friends posting all their fun adventures left me feeling like a real hermit. And seeing beautifully decorated homes that belong to I-don’t-even-know-who just made me feel like I wasn’t doing anything right. What I needed to do, and did, was realize that A) the success of my business has nothing to do with Instagram, B) I do fun things too, and I forget to take pictures, let alone take the time to edit and filter them (ain’t nobody got time…) and C) I’m not an interior designer, nor am I rich, nor do I have a professional photographer on speed dial to take Pinterest worthy pictures of my living room. And so, with that, I deleted the apps and found myself with SO much more free time. I used that free time mostly to read more books, something I claimed I “never had time to do.” HAH, I had plenty of time, I was just spending it mindlessly scrolling. For those reading who struggle with body image, once you start comparing other areas of your life to others, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of comparing your body, too (read: “ugh, look at how much fun she is having. She has nicer clothes and is prettier than me, too!”)

If I, a Master’s level educated adult with a fully developed and nourished brain could get sucked into the vortex and algorithms of social media, just imagine what social media is doing to kids. The brain isn’t fully developed until the mid-twenties, so those kids in peak brain development time don’t quite realize yet that there is so much more to life than appearance and the small bubble they exist in at school (where everyone is judging each other for everything). Kids and teens spend hours every single day scrolling through different social media feeds; it’s complete information overload. You’d be amazed when I ask an adolescent client “what are your hobbies?” and they say “my phone, tablet” etc. While social media started off as a way to share your life with the people you care about (who remembers Live Journal, Xanga, and Myspace!?), it has morphed into a multi-billion dollar enterprise that targets kids and teens as their consumer market. It’s no wonder rates of anxiety and depression are sky high in school aged and teenage kids right now. They can’t escape comparison to those around them.

One of the most frustrating things though, is that I feel like I can’t escape social media. I was listening to a podcast recently where they were doing a giveaway for a book I really want to read. In order to enter the giveaway, you had to go on Instagram and mention them in your feed! So, I downloaded the app, signed in, and entered. But I couldn’t just delete the app again, because I had to keep an eye on my DMs to see if I won! Sneaky, sneaky, Instagram. And of course once the app is on there, Instagram knows exactly how to suck me in. It’s the same even with taking my daughter to playgroup; in order to know what’s happening in real time (is playgroup on for today?) I have to check their Facebook page. Then there’s all the garbage, non-evidence based “diet” information floating around on social media that people ask me about. I’m happy to debunk any of those myths, of course, but it’s a bit scary as an RD to hear what’s floating around and trending on social media that impressionable people are totally buying into. I’ve even had clients trying to diagnose themselves with eating disorders based on what they saw on Tiktok. So then, of course, I have to fire up my social media accounts again to check out this bogus claim. You really do feel like you’re missing out big time if you don’t have any social media.

Because I’m an RD and not an actual life coach, let’s circle this back to food and nutrition. If you’re a mom (or dad!) and those picture perfect images of colorful bento boxes with flower shaped apple cutouts and sandwiches cut into absolute perfect strips leave you feeling less than mediocre, or a meal-prep wannabe who sees influencers spending 14 hours in their kitchen on Sunday making identical meals for the week and you just can’t even fathom it, stop right there. Those people posting those images are the exception, not the norm. Plus, more likely than not, they have a team behind them of food stylists, food photographers, studio lighting, and more. Something I do with my meal planning programs for clients is teach them how they can spend and hour or two prepping some items for the week to make week night cooking less daunting. I’ll meet you where you’re at; there’s no need to be picture perfect.

If you’ve read this far into the post, I imagine you’re feeling the same way I do. I challenge you to delete the social media apps from your phone. See what else you can do with that time that is meaningful and fulfilling to you. Read a book, prep some veggies for the week (something else I hear over and over from clients that they “don’t have time” to do), or pet your dog more often. You can keep your accounts, but maybe you have to make the effort to login to your computer to check them. If you took the cutest picture ever of your dog or your kid, text it to your close friends. Your worthiness is not determined by how many “likes” you get on social (I already like you just fine 🙂 ), and the whole internet doesn’t need to see that photo.

Be kind with yourself and recognize that your life is never going to look exactly like someone else’s, especially the parts of their life they choose to share on social. Remember, highlight reel. We might think that person we are comparing ourselves to has it all based on what they post, but as I like to say, “everybody’s got something.”

I’m very curious to know if you feel like you’ve regulated your social media use, or if you feel totally sucked in. I’d love some comments on this one!

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