We live in a transformative time where many of our interactions occur through technology, specifically the Internet. With popular search engines such as Google and Yahoo and the immense power social media has on our lives, it makes sense that there is a strong online eating disorder community. It was determined that, in 2017, Americans spent an average of 12 hours a day on media technology and while eating disorders themselves are not new phenomena, our increasingly technological society makes information about these disorders more accessible than ever, thereby reducing the stigma associated with eating disorders while simultaneously raising awareness about sign and symptoms, complications and treatment modalities. Unfortunately, the online eating disorder community has a dark side that is not always trustworthy and helpful and it is important to segregate the positive online supportive communities from those online communities that reinforce disordered eating pathology and behaviors.

Looking at the dark side of the online eating disorder community

Sites that refer to themselves as pro-An or pro-ED are pro-anorexia and pro-eating disorder sites, respectively, and provide individuals with information and tools that endorse, maintain, and reinforce disordered eating pathology and behaviors. From social media accounts to websites and blogs, there are thousands of Internet resources that promote “thinspiration”, a term that was coined to encourage the use of pictures and written words in order to inspire thinness and teach extreme weight loss tips and tricks. According to the European Journal of Pediatrics, research indicates that 35.5% of 10 to 22-year-olds diagnosed with an eating disorder have visited pro-ED sites. Of this 35.5%, 96% learned new weight loss methods and 69% used these methods. These sites claim to help users when in reality studies have shown that users who engage in these sites further believe that their eating disorder is part of their identity, which intensifies their eating disorder. Individuals with eating disorder feel alienated from their social groups and these sites can seem like a quick solution to engage in social activity and acceptance when in reality, they are only causing harm.

Fostering hope in online eating disorder communities

Online eating disorder communities are not all bad; there is a lot of positivity and good that comes from eating disorder awareness and pro-treatment groups. Positive online communities are a safe haven for anonymity, empowerment, knowledge, a sense of community, and infinite access and availability.

Individuals who are struggling with an eating disorder or who are in recovery are often embarrassed to share their stories or post their name online out of fear of judgment, shame and feelings of guilt. Most online eating disorder recovery communities allow user to stay anonymous which eases a lot of pressure from those individuals who are not quite comfortable asking for help or sharing their story. Eating disorder recovery sites also offer a lot of knowledge and empowerment in relation to eating disorders. Social media accounts may post positive affirmations and quotes while blogs and websites may publish new research studies and informative written content about treatment options, complications, frequently asked questions and personal recovery stories. Individuals with eating disorders are not alone, although it is common to feel isolated and alienated when one is struggling with an eating disorder or is in recovery. Online communities give a sense of connection, positive human interaction and a sense of belonging, which can elicit feelings of community and togetherness. The online eating disorder community can be accessed from all over the globe, no matter what time of the day, since it is the Internet. This can be beneficial for those who are struggling at odd hours of the night or who are having a hard time during a vacation. The online eating disorder community is always accessible and available.

How Center for Discovery is providing an online community

Center for Discovery is a leading eating disorder treatment center with locations throughout the United States. They have a large online presence with a comprehensive website that offers treatment resources such as an eating disorder blog, recovery success stories, and a summary of their treatment options and locations. Their blog and recovery success stories allow individuals to search and learn about common questions and topics associated with eating disorders. Their website also offers a career page, a treatment application tab, and resources to find a support group in your area. This vast online network can make huge positive differences in individual’s lives by providing them with supportive, factual information, and a sense of belonging in the hopes that the individual will seek professional treatment.