Make Peace with Social Media

Applying Intuitive Eating Principles to Social Media Consumption

Amanda Baughan
8 min readMay 20, 2022

After years of press on “social media addiction,” documentaries about the ethics of social media, and countless books and research on how social media keeps us “hooked,” there is mounting pressure for people to use social media less. In my own research, I have seen how using and enjoying social media is admitted with shame and frustration. I’ve heard people equate scrolling on social media with addiction and “junk food” for the brain. But people who use social media tend to be reluctant to delete it, and often, they eventually rejoin the platform.

The shame around enjoying social media experiences made me think of another often-shamed experience in our culture — eating. There are countless diets and weight loss programs to motivate people to get in shape, and cut out certain foods, but we also know that 80% of diets fail.

Anti-diet activists and practitioners have proposed a new take to nutrition and exercise, known as intuitive eating and health at every size (HAES). Revolutionizing our enjoyment of social media can be equated to revolutionizing our enjoyment of food through intuitive eating — rather than cutting out social media cold turkey, let’s think about what we can add to our online experiences to make them more “nutritious” for our overall well-being. Here, I go through the intuitive eating principles and how they relate to our use of social media.

1. Reject the “Social Media Addiction” Mentality

In intuitive eating (IE), the first principle is to reject diet culture: Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer the false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. IE promotes that people get angry at diet culture that promotes weight loss and the lies make people feel like a failure every time a new diet stopped working.

Similarly, release yourself from judgement because you enjoy social media. Become aware of the fact that at every social media company, there are countless people, dollars, and experiments being run to keep you on platforms for as long as possible in order to feed their ad revenue. Stop judging yourself for using platforms exactly as they are designed. Don’t get angry at yourself — get angry at the fact that companies are designing technology that exploits your attention and behavior for their profit.

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2. Honor Your Desire to Connect

In intuitive eating, this is known as honoring your hunger. Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy. Learn to honor your cravings.

With social media, honor your desire to connect with others online. Honor your desire to unplug into an immersive experience. Wanting to disconnect from your present moment into something absorbing is a morally neutral thing to desire. Wanting to interact with people in your network can be very healthy and fulfilling.

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3. Make Peace with Social Media

In intuitive eating, this is called “making peace with food.” Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing. When you finally “give in” to your forbidden foods, eating will be experienced with such intensity it usually results in Last Supper overeating and overwhelming guilt.

For social media, give yourself permission to enjoy it. Giving yourself permission to use it will likely lead to a healthier relationship with it in the long run. If social media doesn’t have to be enjoyed in secrecy or shame, you may find that you use it in more moderation over time. However, unlike food, we may have less natural “full” cues — set yourself up for success by setting a timer for yourself so you are able to come out of the social media experience and meet your time spending goals.

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4. Challenge the Social Media Police

In intuitive eating, this is called “Challenging the Food Police.” Scream a loud no to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating minimal calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The food police monitor the unreasonable rules that diet culture has created.

For social media — challenge the idea that social media is “bad” for you. Would you judge yourself so harshly if you were reading books or listening to podcasts as often as you look at social media? Prior work has found that the narrative of social media addiction leads to negative appraisal of time spent on social media, even though the consequences are largely undefined. Think about what negative consequences you actually do experience from using social media, if there are any at all. What positive consequences are there?

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5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

In intuitive eating they say, when you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes just the right amount of food for you to decide you’ve had “enough.”

This can be applied to social media as well. When do you feel satisfied from using social media? Do you have an internal cue that feels like you have consumed or interacted “enough?” What amount of content leads you to feel this way? What types of content? How does the content make you feel? Happy? Anxious? Isolated? Fulfilled? Start to pay attention to your mood before, during, and after social media use.

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6. Feel Your Fullness

In intuitive eating, they say: In order to honor your fullness, you need to trust that you will give yourself the foods that you desire. Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of eating and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what your current hunger level is.

For social media, once you can pause or stop your social media use, think about how it has made you feel. What types of content have you interacted with? What do you most remember from the experience? Are you being satiated by your online experiences?

Created by Yim Register

7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness

In intuitive eating, they say: Recognize that food restriction, both physically and mentally, can, in and of itself, trigger loss of control, which can feel like emotional eating. Find kind ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger may only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion.

Sometimes, our use of social media compares to emotional eating. Perhaps what we need in that moment won’t be fulfilled by scrolling online, but it’s the easiest way to disconnect from the anxiety, boredom, or loneliness we are feeling. However, social media likely won’t solve this problem, even though it gives temporary relief. Dealing with the source of the emotion through breathing exercises, reaching out directly to a friend, or exercising may lead to a more satisfying release.

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8. Respect Your Body

Intuitive eating says, accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally futile (and uncomfortable) to have a similar expectation about body size. But mostly, respect your body so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical of your body size or shape. All bodies deserve dignity.

Respecting your body in relationship to using social media might mean not comparing your body to others online, unfollowing accounts that make you feel worse about your body, not waiting to eat or use the restroom because you’re scrolling, and giving your body effective self-regulation tools beyond scrolling.

Created by Yim Register

9. Movement — Feel the Difference

Intuitive eating says, forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie-burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze alarm.

For social media: try adding more to your feed that motivates you towards your goals. You can also try other activities and hobbies, to see how you feel compared to scrolling. You don’t have to make hard and fast rules about one being “good” for you and one being “bad.” Just try seeing different types of content and different activities and see how you feel.

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10. Honor Your Health — Gentle Nutrition

Intuitive eating says, make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good. Remember that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or become unhealthy, from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. Progress, not perfection, is what counts.

For social media, introduce things into your feed that help you feel good about your social media consumption and the role it plays in your life holistically. Follow mental health accounts, accounts that promote critical thought, accounts that encourage logging off. Whatever makes your social media environment holistically feel good to you should guide you.

Created by Yim Register

This article was written by Amanda Baughan in collaboration with Yim Register. Amanda Baughan is a PhD student at the University of Washington, studying social media’s impact on relationships and mental health. Yim Register is a fellow PhD student studying machine learning literacy. They make art about healing your social media on Instagram @yimluckyregister.