Social Networks and Eating Behaviours


Many risk factors (e.g., appearance-based evaluations, food accessibility, interpersonal problems) are known to contribute to body image problems and eating pathology. To better understand potential triggers of disordered eating behaviours, ecological momentary assessment (EMA) has been increasingly used to collect real-time observations in individuals’ natural environment. The current EMA study comprised four distinct projects investigating the effects of (a) dating-apps use; (b) the use of food delivery services; (c) selfie-posting; (d) appearance-based comments, social and performance-based evaluations on body dissatisfaction and disordered eating behaviours.

Research Questions / Hypotheses

Hypothesis 1: (a) Female dating app use would predict momentary increases in state body dissatisfaction (BD), urges to engage in disordered eating (DE), and negative mood; and these relationships would be moderated by appearance-based rejection sensitivity; (b) Seeking potential dating app partners based on idealised characteristics would predict greater increases in state BD, urges to engage in DE, and negative mood than seeking partners based on non-idealised characteristics.    Hypothesis 2: State-based negative mood and loneliness would lead to increases in urges to engage in DE and BD, and these relationships would be moderated by food delivery group, food delivery frequency and trait negative urgency.    Hypothesis 3: Selfie-posting (but not total time spent on SNS) would be associated with greater state self-objectification, BD and urges to engage in dietary restraint, eating unhealthy food and binge eating; and these relationships would be moderated by media literacy and lifetime self-posting frequency.    Hypothesis 4: Daily negative appearance-based comments, social evaluations and performance-based evaluations would lead to increased negative mood, BD and the urge to engage in restrictive eating, binge eating and eating healthy food; and distress tolerance would moderate the above relationships.


477 REP participants completed at least phase 1 of the study.    Exclusion criteria: at least 18 years old.


Participants first completed a baseline questionnaire containing measures of demographics and trait-level variables (e.g., appearance-based rejection sensitivity; negative urgency; media literacy) on Qualtrics’ online survey platform. They were then instructed to download a smartphone application, SEMA3, which signalled them six times per day for seven days to complete brief 1-2-minute surveys assessing their momentary experiences (e.g., state mood, dating app use, food delivery service use, selfie-posting, appearance comments).


Multi-level modelling was used for data analysis. The main results are shown below.    1. Trait level dating-app use predicted greater binge-eating/purging symptoms at the next time point. Based on preliminary findings, state level dating-app use also predicted greater binge-eating/purging symptoms and dietary restraint at the next time point.    2. Increased negative mood preceded the urge to engage in binge eating and unhealthy eating. Loneliness, negative mood, and trait negative urgency intensified body dissatisfaction. General use of food delivery services was not found to impact on body image, however, increased usage (weekly rather than monthly usage) lead to increased levels of body dissatisfaction.    3. State selfie-posting predicted greater state self-objectification, reduced body dissatisfaction and urges to engage in dietary restraint. However, no association was found between state selfie-posting and urges to eat unhealthy food or urges to engage in binge eating. Media literacy and baseline selfie-posting frequency did not moderate the proposed relationships.    4. Negative appearance-based comments, social and performance-based evaluations significantly increased negative mood and BD, while positive evaluations had the opposite effects. However, none of the independent variables significantly predicted the urge to engage in DE. Trait distress tolerance did not moderate any hypothesised associations.


Overall, the findings highlight some potential risk factors for body dissatisfaction and disordered eating behaviours, which could be considered as targets for prevention and early intervention. Specifically, loneliness, high frequencies of food-delivery-services use, selfie-posting, negative appearance-based comments and non-appearance-based evaluations (i.e., social and performance-based) could negatively affect body image. Increased negative mood and female dating-app use may also increase urges to engage in various disordered eating behaviours such as binge-eating/purging and dietary restraint. Additionally, receiving positive feedback, especially positive social evaluations, might be protective (in terms of decreasing negative mood and body dissatisfaction). We hope to share our findings through conference presentations and academic publications in the near future.