People Who Use Dating Apps May Be Likely To Develop An Eating Disorder, Study Says

Research looks at apps like Tinder, and whether they contribute to poor body image and disordered eating.

What you see, is often not what you get, when it comes to meeting people online. Most people would agree that filters, photoshopped and fake images run rampant on social media platforms. They also contribute to making others feel poorly about their own image.

Add to the mix potential mates who may be judging you solely on your looks—and that in itself could trigger an eating disorder in some people. This, according to a new study by Australian researchers at the University of Melbourne, published in the Journal of Eating Disorders. 

The study looked at 690 people with an average age of 20-years-old. It specifically targeted users of dating apps where people are prompted to quickly “swipe” based purely on first impressions. With an estimated 207 million people using apps like Tinder, Bumble and Grindr, this could potentially impact a significant amount of people.

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The average Tinder user is swiping left or right on 140 people each day based on little more than a profile picture. Appraisals are often based primarily on the users’ physical attractiveness, cites the study.

The study participants were asked specifically about their usage of these apps, and whether or not they had any symptoms of disordered eating. They also assessed various “common traits” of eating disorders. These include rejection sensitivity, social rank, fear of negative evaluation, and the tendency to poorly regulate emotions.

It found that, in more instances than not, users of these apps reported potential symptoms of an eating disorder. In addition, when asked about their motivations for using the dating apps in the first place, respondents reported that four out of six of these motivations were linked to disordered eating.

For example, those who used dating apps to validate their self-worth, tended to have a higher rate of disordered eating. Interestingly, the people who said they used apps purely for the “thrill and excitement” of them, had a lower rate of disordered eating —which study authors said contradicted previous research.

“This was interesting, given that sensation seeking is often associated with eating disorders, presumably due to the urge to satisfy needs for risk and excitement through disordered eating,” the study’s co-author, Jade Portingale, PhD told PsyPost. 

Overall, the study concluded that “lifetime dating app use may constitute a socio-cultural appearance-based pressure that increase one’s risk of eating disorders,” Dr. Portingale told PsyPost. Researchers posed two theories for these findings. One, is that people who already have a propensity toward an eating disorder, may be likely to use a dating app to meet people because they have more control over their image that way.

The other theory is that it may trigger disordered eating in people who are trying to enhance their physical appearance, simply to get more positive swipes on the apps.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please visit the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) for more information and support, or text “NEDA” to 741-741. 

Jené Luciani Sena
Jené Luciani Sena is an accredited journalist and internationally-renowned bestselling author, regularly seen on national TV outlets such as Access Daily, Today and Dr Oz. Touted as one of Woman’s World Magazine’s “Ultimate Experts,” she’s a TEDTalk speaker and a busy Mom of 4. Read more