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Thinspiration: Doctors Concerned With Social Media Sites Promoting Eating Disorders

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Social media sites are a great place to stay in touch, get support, to inspire, to honor causes and celebrate achievements.

But to promote eating disorders?

TV 10-55's Katie McGee takes us inside a dangerous and growing trend called "Thinspirtation."

Sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr and Twitter can feature startling images of women – sometimes bone thin – encouraging others to look the same.

It's called "Thinspiration" and while many of these sites claim to promote a healthy lifestyle, others call it alarming.

"Thinspiration is content that promotes weight loss but often in a way that actively glorifies eating disordered behavior and thoughts," said Claire Mysko, spokesperson for the National Eating Disorders Association.

"We have heard from a lot of young people who are on these sites and get tips and quotes and are exposed to images that really trigger very dangerous eating disordered behavior," Mysko added.

Eating disorders – even the terms "Pro-Ana" and "Pro-Mia" – designed to promote anorexia and bulimia as lifestyle choices, are nothing new. But social media is now providing a new - and dangerous - platform for spreading the word.

"It certainly has made it more accessible to a broader number of people," Mysko said. "What it also does is it provides a sense of community. We know that people who are struggling with eating disorders…are feeling very alone. They're looking to connect with other people who get what they're going through. "

But it isn't a "community" in the traditional, positive sense.

"The community that it provides is a really false community. You are doing it in front of your computer, all alone. And if you are spending hour upon hour comparing yourself to other bodies, and staying stuck in a state of insecurity, you're not going to move forward to a healthy place."

But the trend isn't just affecting teens and young adults. Recovering anorexic Nichole Lewellyn has been battling with her eating disorder for 28 years.

"It's very, very difficult," said Lewellyn, a mother of two.

"I'm hearing that these are triggering websites, that they can be going along fine in their recovery, be on the computer, come across these websites and think, 'oh my goodness, I need to do this.'"

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

But one psychologist urges young eating disorder sufferers that looks can be deceiving.

"Everything today to kids is visual," said Dr. Harris Stratyner. "They are unhealthy. I mean, we have to really understand that. It's life threatening."

Dr. Janet Taylor, a clinical instructor of psychiatry at Columbia University stopped by The Couch to discuss the alarming online trend.

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2012 Kate Upton
Kate Upton, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2012 Cover Model. (credit: Credit: Walter Iooss Jr./Sports Illustrated)

"I think we have to strive for balance," Dr. Taylor said. "We have to keep telling our girls, 'You're beautiful no matter how you look.'"

Recently, a gossip blogger made headlines for calling swimsuit model Kate Upton a "piggy" for showing off her curves. The Sports Illustrated smokeshow responded with a comment concerning her eating habits.

"I'm not going to starve just to be thin," she said. "I want to enjoy life and I can't if I'm not eating and miserable."

According to Dr. Taylor, this is just what our society needs.

"The benefit of social media is you can go on and find an opinion like yours," Dr. Taylor sais. "But for Kate to reply and say 'I like myself,' that's what we need."

For more of Dr. Taylor's interview on The Couch, check out the video below.

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