Targeting the link between social media and eating disorder risk: A randomized controlled pilot study

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Objective: Evaluate the feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary efficacy of a self-criticism intervention addressing the link between appearance-motivated social media use and eating disorder risk. Another condition, designed to help users curate their social media feed to reduce negative impacts on wellbeing, was also trialed as an active and credible comparison. Method: University students aged 17–25 (N = 170) were screened and randomized (n = 130) to the self-criticism intervention, social media curation, or waitlist control group. The intervention comprised self-guided cognitive behavior therapy delivered in four modules over 1 week. Primary outcomes were feasibility and acceptability. Secondary outcomes were appearance motivations for social media use, appearance comparison, self-criticism, body image flexibility, and disordered eating (at baseline, one-week postrandomization, and two-weeks postrandomization). Trial registration: ACTRN12621000353897. Results: Participants completed an average of 82% of the intervention modules and 77% of the homework exercises within the week allocated. The intervention was well-accepted; participants reported a range of positive aspects, alongside suggested modifications to the intervention and study design to improve acceptability. Group by time interactions suggested groups changed at a different rate on three secondary outcomes; between-groups effect sizes suggested this was due to greater improvements in the self-criticism group than waitlist control. Discussion: This was the first study to evaluate an intervention for the link between appearance-related social media use and eating disorder risk for young adults. Positive findings relating to feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary efficacy suggest a larger randomized controlled trial, with modifications to the intervention and study design, is warranted. Public significance: Appearance-related social media use has been linked to poorer body image and disordered eating, necessitating treatments that can disrupt this relationship. The self-criticism intervention evaluated in this study shows promise as a strategy to address this need. It is the first intervention focused on appearance-related social media use to be designed for and tested in young adults, who are at heightened risk of developing an eating disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1066-1078
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Issue number8
Early online date16 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022


  • body image
  • feasibility studies
  • feeding and eating disorders
  • follow-up studies
  • pilot projects
  • self-assessment
  • self-compassion
  • social media
  • young adult


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