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January 7, 2018

EDH Case Study – What Can One Online Community Do to Help? – Part I

Woman searching the EDH website on her iPad

We live in a transformative time where many of our interactions occur through technology.

It was determined that, in 2017, Americans spend an average of 12 hours a day on media technology [1]

What is it about this social and technological climate that makes online communities like Eating Disorder Hope not only helpful but necessary?

The following series will address just that, delving into the unfortunate realities of pro-eating disorder internet sites, examining what research indicates can combat this negativity, and how Eating Disorder Hope is leading the charge in doing just that.

The Problem

While eating disorders themselves are not new phenomena, our increasingly technological society makes information about these disorders more accessible than ever.

Unfortunately, this information is not always helpful or trustworthy.

Amidst the rise of the technology, sites that refer to themselves as pro-anorexia (pro-AN) or pro-eating disorder (pro-ED) have become all-too-popular. Hundreds of these sites exist, linking to thousands or more pro-ED blogs and forums [2].

These sites do just as they sound, providing individuals with information and tools that promote, maintain, and reinforce disordered eating pathology and behaviors.

The sites are rife with “thinspiration,” visual images and text intended to inspire weight loss and teach extreme weight loss tips and tricks [2].

Beyond this, the sites also feature forums where individuals can share their own information on these topics.

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 [2].

Shockingly, there are some who defend these sites, stating that it provides individuals with a safe haven from judgment about their disorders.

Individuals with eating disorders “report feeling more alienated from friends (and)…experience more loneliness and social isolation [2].”

These feelings often motivate individuals to seek out support online and, sadly, pro-ED, and pro-AN sites can seem like a solution, allowing ED “sufferers (to) exchange experiences and gain mutual emotional support without being socially stigmatized [2].”

Woman using social media

While these sites claim to help users, it is not at all shocking that research proves otherwise.

Studies found that even the act of disclosing pro-ED or pro-AN thoughts and feelings strengthens the individual’s belief that their eating disorder is their identity and intensifies their behaviors [2].

Further, a positive correlation has been found between pro-ED site usage and disordered eating behavior [3], in both clinical and non-clinical samples.

One study found that adolescents that visited pro-AN sites showed a “higher drive for thinness, lower evaluations of their appearance, and higher levels of perfectionism [4].”

It is because of this terrible reality that the existence and flourishing of pro-recovery websites like Eating Disorder Hope are so crucial.

Individuals with eating disorders do feel isolated and alone, and it is admirable of them to seek out emotional and social support.

It is up to pro-recovery sites to ensure that, when these individuals are combing the internet for help and support, they are met with sites that show them that they are not alone and that recovery is possible.

Eating Disorder Hope is leading the way in attempting just that by creating a positive online community that offers education, support, and inspiration to eating disorder sufferers, their loved ones, and eating disorder treatment providers.

Continue following this three-part series to learn what Eating Disorder Hope is doing to create an online haven of positive, recovery-based information on eating disorders as well as how you can benefit and join in!

Read Part II of this blog series.

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse 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 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.


[1] (2017). U. S. time spent with media: eMarketer’s updated estimates and forecast for 2014-2019. eMarketer, Retrieved on 05 December 2017 from https://www.emarketer.com/Report/US-Time-Spent-with-Media-eMarketers-Updated-Estimates-Forecast-20142019/2002021.
[2] Custers, K. (2015). The urgent matter of online pro-eating disorder content and children: clinical practice. European Journal of Pediatrics, 174: 429-433.
[3] Peebles, R., et al. (2012). Disordered eating in a digital age: eating behaviors, health and quality of life in users of websites with pro-eating disorder content. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 14.
[4] Custers, K., Van den Bulck, J. (2009). Viewership of pro-anorexia websites in seventh, ninth, and eleventh graders. European Eating Disorders Review, 214-219.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer 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 on January 26, 2018.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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