Support groups are an incredible way to create an accessible community for any number of life challenges. The benefits of these groups are undeniable, from the access to information and support they provide to the community they create.
Here are just a few benefits of support groups that can help contribute to eating disorder recovery.
Engaging in or financing treatment for life’s issues or mental health challenges can be difficult based on factors such as socioeconomic status or geographic location. Support groups have thrived in providing a community for people faced with these challenges.
One of the main reasons for this is that support groups do not require a professional to lead them. In support groups, it is the members themselves that provide one another with support via information, resources, validation, understanding, and listening.
Without this requirement for a professional to lead, more individuals are capable of starting or leading a support group, and the groups can be free because there is no one to pay for their expertise and skills. This is particularly important for individuals struggling with eating disorders, as certified eating disorder treatment locations and specialists are difficult to find.
While support groups cannot replace the need for professional help, they can be a wonderful way to ease into opening up about your eating disorder or can provide helpful, accessible, and affordable continued support after completing treatment. In fact, the accessibility of support groups has reached new levels, with many of them sprouting up online.
A Sense of Understanding
Eating disorders can be isolating, as they are secretive in their very nature, forcing those struggling to hide their true thoughts, feelings, fears, and behaviors. The voice of your eating disorder may have told you any number of untrue things such as “no one cares about you,” “you are alone,” or “no one understands your problems.”
The truth is, eating disorders are among one of the most common mental illnesses impacting people today. In fact, there are many people that likely understand what you are going through.
Support groups provide us with irrefutable evidence of that face-to-face, and we can use that evidence to combat our eating disorder voice as it pushes to keep us in isolation. When we are faced with individuals whose stories sound similar to ours or who may affirm our experiences as we share them, it provides us with a sense of validation and understanding that can bolster and strengthen us.
Leaving treatment can be scary, especially if you are someone that finds it hard to access continued professional help. One study assessed the benefits individuals found from support groups and learned that most individuals valued the “communication of encouragement and esteem and information support notably in terms of diagnosis, treatment, and interaction with healthcare specialists .”
These groups provide an invaluable range of information regardless of the stage of eating disorder diagnosis, treatment, or recovery you are in. Not only that, the information comes from personal, firsthand experiences of what has worked and what hasn’t worked, which providers were helpful, and those that weren’t, etc.
Often, research indicates that women who struggle with eating disorders experience “an inability to establish healthy social networks since these women have difficulties in interpersonal relationships” due to their maladaptive eating disordered traits and behaviors .
Support groups allow these individuals to heal those traits within themselves and gain a healthy social network that supports them in doing so. The value of feeling seen and heard, particularly for individuals that have fought for or against experiencing either due to their disorder, is immense.
Support groups provide that community.
Resources McCormack, A., (2010). Individuals with eating disorders and the use of online support groups as a form of social support. Computers, Informatics, Nursing, 28:1.  Leonidas, C., Santos, M. A., 2014). Social support networks and eating disorders: an integrative review of the literature. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment.
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published July 2, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on July 2, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC