Can You Self-Diagnose an Eating Disorder?

Scrolling through the Internet

Contributor: Staff at Montecatini Eating Disorder Treatment Center

You just watched a TikTok video of someone describing what they say are the symptoms of binge-eating disorder. They’re not an expert, but what they described sounds like something you’ve been going through. So, you search for more TikTok videos of people who say that they have binge-eating disorder. The more you watch, the surer you are that you have binge-eating disorder.

Self-diagnosis via social media is on trend, according to mental health experts [1].

People are more open than ever about their experiences with mental health, and one of the places they’ve found community and belonging is social media. Search a specific hashtag or linger on a particular video and it can push certain content into your newsfeed. Before you know it, you’ve gone down a rabbit hole of posts and videos focusing on a specific topic [2].

When it comes to content about mental health conditions like eating disorders, social media posts run the gamut. People post videos about their personal experiences, explainers about what they say are little-known symptoms, and even videos claiming that certain celebrities have undiagnosed mental health conditions. And many people connect with these social posts in ways that make them believe that something may not be right with their relationship with food or their body.

That can be a good thing, mental health experts say, because people are bringing greater awareness to mental health and doing important work to reduce stigma. And for people who feel like they are struggling with body image or their eating behaviors, answers may finally be just a keystroke away.

But are they getting the answers they truly deserve?

The Dangers of Self-Diagnosis

Getting professional help for an eating disorder isn’t easy for everyone. Eating disorders have long been viewed as an illness that only affects thin, white women, so men and people of color have been much less likely to seek treatment for these conditions. Other factors, such as healthcare discrimination, the cost of treatment, and lack of treatment options in a person’s area, also make it challenging for some people to get timely treatment [3].

Self-diagnosing an eating disorder might seem like a good solution, but the truth is that the best way to get real answers is to talk to a professional. Information obtained from social media posts may not be completely accurate, and it can be difficult for someone to tell what eating disorder symptoms really apply to them and what symptoms may be the result of the horoscope effect.

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Also known as the Barnum or Forer Effect, the horoscope effect is when a person believes that generalized information presented in something like a horoscope or personality profile specifically applies to them, even when that information is generic [4].

This phenomenon can influence the way someone interprets the content they consume on social media. Someone may read a social post or watch a video that includes a list of general eating disorder symptoms and believe that that information applies to them, regardless of whether it actually does.

If you don’t seek a professional diagnosis, you might actually be suffering from a different condition that may continue to go untreated, and that can be catastrophic for your emotional and physical health.

Working with a Professional

If you think that you are struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out to a professional to confirm your diagnosis. Talking to an eating disorder expert will afford you many benefits, starting with accurate information about these complex conditions.

When you reach out to a healthcare professional, you will undergo a thorough physical exam to check for any ailments that might be causing the symptoms you’ve been experiencing. By taking this step, you can make sure that you don’t have any other health conditions that may continue to worsen over time.

A healthcare provider will also conduct a detailed assessment of your medical history and symptoms. This process will help them identify what conditions you may be suffering from, along with the type and level of care that will best meet your needs.

Afterward, they’ll work with you to set a plan for how to approach your healing process, including recommendations for places to get treatment or any appropriate referrals.

Self-diagnosis can sometimes be the start to a person’s recovery journey. But by working with a healthcare provider, you’ll have a built-in support system to guide you through the entire recovery process, from confirming your diagnosis to getting you all the resources you need to experience lasting success.

With the help of experts, you can get real answers and start on the path to recovery.

References:

[1] Slay, B. (2021, August 13). Why ‘TikTok Diagnoses’ are on the rise. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-culture/202108/why-tiktok-diagnoses-are-the-rise.

[2] Williams, M.E. (2022, April 9). Why teens are self-diagnosing on TikTok. Salon. Retrieved from https://www.salon.com/2022/04/09/why-teens-are-self-diagnosing-on-tiktok/.

[3] Mellor, S. (2021, September 4). ‘Munchausen by Internet’ and the dangers of self-diagnosing mental health issues on TikTok. Fortune. Retrieved from https://fortune.com/2021/09/04/tiktok-mental-health-self-diagnose-videos/.

[4] Vohs, K. (N.D.). Barnum effect. Brittanica. Retrieved May 24, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/science/Barnum-Effect.

[5] Sim, L. (2019, August). Our eating disorders blind spot: Sex and ethnic/racial disparities in help seeking for eating disorders. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2019.06.006.


About Montecatini

Montecatini BannerMontecatini provides comprehensive treatment for women who are struggling with eating disorders and co-occurring mental health concerns. We provide a full continuum of life-changing care, including residential treatment, a partial hospitalization program (PHP), and an intensive outpatient program (IOP). We also offer a wellness center where clients can build healthier relationships with their bodies through joyful movement.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on June 10, 2022. Published on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on June 10, 2022