The Role Of Online Support Groups in Eating Disorder Recovery

May 29, 2024

By Joan Zhang

Clinically Reviewed Giva Wilkerson

Nearly 30 million Americans are currently struggling with an eating disorder. Yet, there is still so much shame and guilt surrounding EDs. Isolation breeds shame, preventing far too many from seeking support. Online eating disorder support groups can be an accessible way to step out of isolation with peers who understand your journey.

Online eating disorder support groups provide community and accountability as you recover. It can be a complement to other treatments or your initial acknowledgment that you need support. Either way, members of these groups are there to listen without judgment.

Let’s explore what you can expect from eating disorder support groups, why they're so important, the unique benefits of virtual groups, and how to get started with Arise.

What Can You Expect From Support Groups?

When facing the unknown, it's natural to imagine the worst. If you've never attended an eating disorder support group, it can feel intimidating to join a group where you might not know anyone. The uncertainty might tempt you to skip it altogether.

The truth is that every support group is different and can take many forms. At Arise, we’ve designed our support groups to be welcoming, affirming, and supportive. While each group is unique, support groups share characteristics to help you feel safe, understood, and ready to take the next step, whatever that means for you.

A Welcoming Environment

Feeling psychologically safe is the priority, as judgment has no place in eating disorder recovery. Support groups encourage active listening without criticism. Also, to create as safe of an environment as possible; there are a few rules, including the following: No numbers (weights, calories, etc.); use ‘I’ statements and center your experience during your statements (avoid projecting onto others; share the space (step in and out); and no dumbing, meaning be open to receiving feedback and support.

Small Groups

By keeping groups intimate with 5-10 members, everyone has a chance to share comfortably. Unlike lectures for hundreds of people, the small size allows for back-and-forth discussion and personalized advice.

Regular Meetings

The idea is to create a consistent space where people with similar struggles can come together to share their experiences, learn from each other, and offer advice/encouragement.

Having a regular meeting to look forward to can also be incredibly helpful in eating disorder recovery. It provides a sense of structure and accountability and reminds you that support is available every step of the way.

Peer-Led Support

Arise’s groups are facilitated by Care Advocates. These are people who have lived experience with eating disorders themselves. Who better to lead than someone who has walked in your shoes? 

Peers bring a sense of empathy rather than authority. They're there to guide the conversation and offer support, not to judge or criticize.

Variety

Finally, variety helps ensure you find the right fit, as you may connect better with some groups over others. There is a general eating disorder group open to all eating disorders. As well as groups for specific populations such as ‘People in Large(r) Bodies’ and ‘BIPOC’ and ‘Teens’ (coming soon!).

It's okay to try out different groups to find the one that feels right for you. Pay attention to how you feel during and after the meetings. Do you feel supported and understood by the other members? Are the discussions helpful and relevant to your experience? It may take a few tries to find your fit, and that's perfectly normal.

Why Support Groups Are So Important

Now that you know what to expect, let's explore why peer support is so meaningful for eating disorder recovery.

Fight Isolation

Many people with eating disorders go to great lengths to hide their symptoms from friends and family. These situations often breed secrecy and solitude, convincing you you're alone. But meeting others going through similar struggles helps alleviate this illusion. Shared understanding makes recovery feel more possible.

Being in a room (virtual or physical) with people who "get it" can be incredibly validating and healing.

Normalize a Misunderstood Illness

The stigma around eating disorders stems from myths and stereotypes. Eating disorder support groups directly counter the guilt and shame by offering non-judgment. Your behaviors, emotions, and experiences become normalized rather than something to hide.

Hearing others share similar experiences can help normalize what you're going through and reduce feelings of shame or self-blame.

Build Lasting Connections

The interactions in a support group can help build genuine connections and a sense of community. This is so important because social support is often lacking for people with eating disorders. And these connections may even blossom into lifelong friendships or support systems.

Help and Be Helped

Finally, participating in a support group allows you to both give and receive help. Trust us, we know it may feel uncomfortable at first. However, sharing your challenges and successes can be very rewarding. You never know who you might inspire or encourage with your story.

So, not only are you getting help, but you are also giving it, which can boost your self-esteem and sense of purpose.

The Unique Benefits of Virtual Support Groups

We've talked a lot about eating disorder group therapy in general, but what about virtual support sessions? At Arise, we've seen firsthand how online eating disorder support groups can offer some unique benefits.

Virtual support groups offer:

More Flexibility

Our lives are busier than ever. As such, it can be hard to carve out time to attend an in-person support group meeting, especially if you have work, school, family, or other commitments.

Online meetings allow you to tune into different groups depending on your availability. With varying time slots, you can attend before work, on lunch breaks, or after putting the kids to bed.

Increased Accessibility

In-person meetings require proximity. For instance, if you don't live close to the community center where meetings are held, it may not be realistic for you to participate regularly. Virtual support groups expand to include those who can join regardless of location. Anyone can attend as long as they have an internet connection.

Anonymity

Walking into a support group meeting for the first time can be incredibly daunting. Even if you know it's a safe and welcoming space; it still takes a lot of courage to show your face.

Online therapy allows more anonymity if you are less comfortable sharing on camera, using your name, or showing your face. Now, there's something to be said for seeing people's faces and picking up on body language, and we do encourage using cameras when possible. But we also understand that it can take time to build that comfort level.

The bottom line is that you can go at your own pace.

Arise's Online Eating Disorder Support Group Sessions

If you're ready to connect with others on the path to recovery, Arise offers virtual group sessions that are perfect for doing so comfortably. We welcome all genders, body types, and backgrounds and bring together small groups with shared identities or experiences.

Our Group Sessions are led by Care Advocates, all of whom have their own lived experience with eating disorders. Groups typically have between 5-10 participants, allowing for intimacy and connection.

Covering different topics each week, you'll get to discuss challenges and milestones in a non-judgemental space. Each session is member-driven, focusing the conversation on whatever feels most valuable.

Take the First Step in Recovery Today

If you're struggling with an eating disorder, know that you're not alone and that eating disorder recovery is possible. At Arise, we want to make that first step toward recovery and community as easy as possible for you.

When you're ready, we're ready. Reach out or sign up anytime to get started.