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January 8, 2018

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

Woman checking her phone's browser for dysfunctional eating behaviors

Eating Disorder Hope is a website dedicated to spreading pro-recovery messages about eating disorders by offering education, support, and information to those suffering, their loved ones, and eating disorder treatment providers.

The first part of this series touched on the unfortunate dark-side to technological access.

While some may use these advancements to harm others, researchers have also investigated the positive role the internet can play in eating disorder recovery.

The Benefits of Hyperpersonal Communication

One of the benefits of online communities that cannot be duplicated with face-to-face support is what is known as “hyperpersonal communication.”

Coined by Joseph Walther in 1996, the theory of hyperpersonal communication asserts that computer-mediated communication (CMC) affords individuals with communicative advantages such as the ability to maintain anonymity [1].

Additionally, because of the timing of CMC, individuals can plan, contemplate, and edit their actions more carefully than when following the rhythm of a face-to-face interaction [1].

For individuals with eating disorders, these benefits can be crucial. Fear of judgment and feelings of guilt and shame are decreased when exploring a site or commenting in a forum anonymously.

This can be particularly helpful for those individuals that are in the pre-contemplation or contemplation stages of change, as they can explore information, resources, tools, and forums without feeling the pressure they might if they had to seek out this information face-to-face.

Empowering with Knowledge

“Knowledge is power” is a household saying for a reason. Individuals that are armed with knowledge tend to have increased confidence in their own abilities as well as increased hope and optimism.

Internet sites can provide this empowerment by offering positive, pro-recovery information and tools that individuals can use.

One study surveyed individuals that used an online eating disorder recovery community and found that the empowering outcome experienced to the most reliable degree was feeling better informed [2].

Achieving the Understanding That You are Not Alone

As we discussed in Part I of this series, individual’s main motivations for seeking out pro-AN and pro-ED sites is the social support it provides.

Woman using smartphone to access EDH

In difficult times, people need to know they aren’t alone.

A function of pro-recovery sites is to “fulfill these desires…in a reliable, healthy, positive, and recovery-focused manner [2].”

The same study mentioned above found that individuals were also highly empowered by sharing stories with others and finding recognition [2].

The Bottom Line

The availability of internet advocacy groups and communities regardless of geographical location or time zone is invaluable to individuals with eating disorders, increasing their help-seeking behavior, optimism, feelings of control over their future, and confidence in both the treatment process and their relationships with their therapist.

Overall, these sites play an important role in combatting pro-ED sites and allowing individuals to “take a more active and self-managing role in their own healthcare [2],” empowering both them and their loved ones as they strive toward recovery.

Read Part III 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] Eichhorn, K. C. (2008). Soliciting and providing social support over the internet: an investigation of online eating disorder support groups. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 67-78.
[2] Aardoom, J. J. et al. (2014). Internet and patient empowerment in individuals with symptoms of an eating disorder: a cross-sectional investigation of a pro-recovery focused e-community. Eating Behaviors, 15, 350-356.

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 8, 2018.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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