Inside sick world of diet ‘coaches’ who give body-shaming insults to teens

Children battling eating disorders are being preyed on by warped strangers who insult them into trying to lose weight.

The web weirdos style themselves as “coaches” and offer sessions intended to slash the amount teens eat, using a controversial technique called “meanspo” – being mean to inspire.

This week, the Sunday People uncovered scores of potentially dangerous social media accounts that children join to be called fat, disgusting and suffer other vile jibes.

Typical advice for kids with eating disorders includes: “Look how fat your thighs are… stuff those chubby fingers down your throat and purge for me.”

The cruel sessions are on the world’s biggest social media sites – Twitter, TikTok and Instagram.

All three platforms can be used by children as young as 13, although each has policies banning content that promotes or glorifies eating disorders. But we got around filters meant to block potentially harmful accounts simply by misspelling search terms.

We found masses of shocking proanorexia content, including a coach on Twitter who urged many followers to vomit and called one a “gross pig”.

The coach told a People reporter posing as a girl of 15 it is good to hide her eating disorder from her family and asked for revealing snaps to do a “body check”.

Eating disorder charity Beat has had calls from people affected by the coaches.

The charity’s Tom Quinn said: “It’s shocking meanspo coaching and distressing pro-eating disorder content is so readily available. We know from the people we support that urging them to engage in extreme weight loss techniques and eating disorder behaviours can worsen symptoms for somebody who is unwell and make recovery more difficult.

“It can also contribute to an eating disorder developing for someone who is already vulnerable.”

Eating disorders affect 1.25 million in the UK and anorexia has the highest death rate of all mental illnesses.

Hospital admissions for the disorders rose 84% in five years, figures show. Almost 10,000 children started treatment between April and December last year and charities fear social media is compounding the problem.

Our reporter began following a Twitter account promising meanspo and pro-ana (anorexia) coaching with 150 followers.

They called a user a “gross pig” and told another “fat folds show you need an ana coach”.

They also said of a photo of a slim female: “If you barf yourself you might start to look prettier.”

Our investigator gave the coach a dangerously low current weight and target to reach by Christmas. She told them she had set a calorie limit but exceeded it last weekend – giving an amount still way under NHS recommendations for a girl of 15.

The coach replied: “That’s a high limit… how did you mess up so much?”

And they later asked: “Do your parents know you’re ana?” When she said they did not, the coach shockingly said: “That’s good at least.”

They then asked for three photos of her body and after she sent a selection they asked for more, adding: “Do you need to wear so much?”

The creepy coach then refused further “advice” without snaps that were more revealing.

Meanwhile, another coach told followers people “feel sick over your inflated stomach”. And one said they would feel only guilt “once you’ve finished stuffing your face like a p!g”.

It prompted 75 comments, including “This is what makes me have limits” and “This is for people who wanna control themselves”.

Another account shared a video of a petite dancer and the caption: “Fatty go eat that and be fatter lets see how happy ur gonna be now”.

Comments included “I’m saving this! Thanks” and it got nearly 800 likes.

Our findings come ahead of a BBC3 documentary by Zara McDermott, which highlights the sites.

The Love Island star meets Tiwa, who one coach told: “You’re a fat ugly pig, you look horrendous, stop f***ing eating.”

Zara, 25, said of our probe: “It’s scary. It’s sad how easy it was for you to access that content, you can imagine how easy it is for youngsters.”

The advice from the online coach
Tom stressed recovery from an eating disorder is possible with help from the NHS or charities like his. And he called for social media firms to stop the dangerous content being shared.

TikTok and Instagram removed content that violated guidelines after we raised the alarm.

TikTok said: “We care deeply about the health and wellbeing of our community.”

Some of the posts we discovered
Instagram owner Meta said it takes eating disorders “extremely seriously”, adding: “We’re constantly working to strike the balance between removing harmful content while giving people space to talk about their experiences… to help destigmatise mental health.”