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Why Online Support Improves Your Relationship with Food

I’ve always believed that my Yahoo Food and Feelings message board and Facebook "Normal" Eating page help troubled eaters feel better about themselves and their relationship with food. Now an article entitled “A burden shared” in the 1/31/15 issue of The Economist (page 72) gives me hope that what I’ve assumed might be true. Although the article is about weight loss, as opposed to becoming a “normal” eater, I’m taking a leap of faith that its conclusions are equally applicable.

There has already been substantial scientific evidence published proving that friendships and support networks help people get healthier physically and mentally. In this study by scientists at Northwestern University, a correlation between weight loss and staying connected to a website was found. Of course, correlation does not mean cause and effect, but this conclusion does get one thinking about how online support might be useful in reducing food-related problems.

A few reasons come to mind. Many—make that most—of the 1000-plus members of my message board seem to value being relatively anonymous. This makes sense because troubled eaters often feel shame about their eating and weight problems and fear what they perceive as vulnerability when sharing feelings on the subject. Overeating, binge-eating, and high weights or BMIs can, due to stigma in this fat phobic culture, be enormously shame generating. How much easier to connect when you’re not seen and known to another person. Another value is that you come to realize that people all over the world have problems with eating. The universal appeal of “it’s not just me,” can’t be overestimated when many shame-based, disregulated eaters come from families or have friendships with people who do okay with food or are of average weight.

Another value of an online message board is that you don’t have to spend traveling time to get group support. It’s as easy as, well, pie. You can easily check up on what others are doing and saying and often can post in the moment when the desire strikes. If you’re having a mindless food craving, but don’t want to act on it, posting can help sort out your feelings. And you may even get a response that helps you not eat if you’re not hungry. Online support is great for problem-solving and trying out different strategies that you never may have thought of if you hadn’t read that other members had success with them.

You don’t know that you’ll benefit from an online support group until you give it a try!