7 Things You Should Consider Before Joining An Online Eating Disorder Support Group
If you’re thinking about joining an online eating disorder support group, there are things to consider in advance. The decision to join a support group can be daunting and empowering at the same time. Thinking it through and evaluating the pro’s and con’s is important.
The main purpose of any support group is to provide a time and place for people to share personal experiences, feelings, and coping strategies.
Being a part of a community who understands eating disorders can be wonderfully validating and comforting. To be in the presence of others who talk about their challenges can feel like a breath of fresh air. Especially because mental health challenges can be isolating.
In an online support group, you’re likely to understand one another. And, at the same time, recognize that not everyone is exactly the same. The main focus? Sharing experiences without discussing the “war stories”. Romanticized versions of your story or one upmanship are not helpful to anyone.
Support groups aren’t therapy sessions. Researchers say treatment led by trained experts is more effective than support groups. Especially when it comes to encouraging changed eating behaviors.
But online support groups have a unique role for most people with eating disorders.
As you recover, you may benefit from being a mentor to others with eating disorders. Sharing your knowledge and offering help can be an important part of your own recovery.
Consider these 7 things before joining an online eating disorder support group:
- Purpose: Understand the purpose of the group. Is it oriented toward support? Encouragement? Is it focused on providing specific information and resources? A support group is very different from group therapy.
- Leadership: Check if the group is led by a professional. What are the leader’s qualifications and experience in treating eating disorders?
- Confidentiality: How are your and other members’ privacy and confidentiality protected?
- Content: What are the parameters of content shared in the group? How is triggering language handled?
- Boundaries: Establish boundaries for yourself and respect the boundaries of others. This may include not sharing personal information or avoiding triggering discussions.
- Help: Know where to seek additional help if needed. A support group is not a substitute for professional treatment. It is a supplement to therapy.
- Support: Join the group with the intention of offering support to others. And of course receiving support for yourself.
Eating disorders can leave you feeling isolated and overwhelmed, making it difficult to reach out for help. However, an online support group can provide a safe and supportive environment where you can connect with others who understand what you’re going through.
Other benefits to joining an online eating disorder support group include:
- Community: Joining a support group offers a sense of community, an understanding audience ready to listen. You can connect with others who have similar experiences and feelings. This can help reduce feelings of loneliness and shame and provide a sense of belonging. Concerns that may seem insignificent to tell your treatment team may be easier to vent about to peers.
- Validation: Ideally you’ll find validation for your feelings and experiences. Hearing similar stories can help you feel seen and heard.
- Hope: Connecting with others who are further along in their recovery from an eating disorder can provide inspiration. Seeing others who have overcome similar challenges can motivate you to continue your own recovery.
- Education: You will learn information about eating disorders and be privvy to resources available in the community. Online eating disorder support groups can provide ideas for managing challenges.
- Emotional regulation: Sharing your feelings in a supportive environment helps to manage intense emotions, reducing urges to engage in eating disorder behaviors.
- Encouragement: The support and encouragement from group members can help boost your self-esteem and confidence. Support can also provide motivation and momentum for your recovery.
- Anonymity: You don’t need to give your real name or address. Or show what you look like. It’s harder to judge online other members’ weight. Online support groups tend to reduce pressure. Some people talk more than they would in person.
- Peer-based: Members are in recovery from eating disorders.
There is a downside of joining such groups, including:
- The lack of personal connection in an online setting can result in a feeling of separateness or disconnection among members of the support group.
- Unfiltered online discussions may include triggering language and images, which are counter to recovery.
- An online support group is not the same as professional treatment. Lack of professional guidance can lead to harmful advice.
Online eating disorder support groups are better suited for people who:
- may feel uncomfortable seeking help in person.
- live in rural areas or have limited access to in-person support groups.
- have busy schedules or prefer the flexibility of an online setting.
And are less well suited for people with:
- severe eating disorders. An online support group doesn’t provide enough professional guidance.
- low self-esteem and self-worth. An online support group may include triggering language.
- preference for in-person support: Some people prefer the personal connection and accountability of in-person support. Also, an online support group may not provide enough motivation.
If you’re considering joining an online eating disorder support group, be sure to find one that suits you and allows you to feel safe enough to share fears and struggles.
Some support groups are contra-indicated, especially for anorexia recovery. These pro-anorexia (aka pro-ana) groups often appear to be valid eating disorder support groups on the surface. They are soooooo not.
A clear warning sign of a “soooo not support group” is if photos are requested. Pro-ana type groups often ask members to share photos of themselves. Don’t!
If a support group asks for your photograph or offers tips on weight loss, keep looking for an online support group that is about recovery, not about the disorder.
Hearing other people’s stories as they go through something that you’re also experiencing can help you feel more hopeful.
And, hope helps anyone in eating disorder recovery.
Dr Elayne Daniels is an anti-diet, Intuitive Eating certified psychologist, consultant, coach, and author specializing in eating disorders. She is passionate about helping people of all ages and genders recover and truly live their lives. Contact her here to learn more. And if you’re struggling with overcoming an eating disorder, this e-book might be useful.
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