Social media creates solidarity for those affected by eating disorders

By Lucy Vernasco

Tweets lit up the emotional landscape for people affected by eating disorders. The messages surged through an hour session Sunday to kick off National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

Social media outlets have become conversation spaces for providing support and a community oasis for those who the know the toll disordered eating can take on people’s lives. So on Sunday night, Adios Barbie, a media outlet celebrating healthy body image, hosted a party – the third annual #AdiosED twitter party. Body-image activists served as  “panelists” participating from their laptops included Sharon Haywood, Melanie Klein, Melissa A. Fabello, Dagan VanDemark and Gloria Tepiliuelia.

The discussion covered self care tips and recovery. Through  diverse perspectives, the discussion centered on the reality that eating disorders are different for each person. Contrary to the idea that eating disorders only affect cis-gendered, heterosexual white women, the activists and discussion participants shared that eating disorders and their narratives vary for each person and identity.

“Every year we see a bigger audience and a wider reach. This year there were over 700 tweets and retweets tagged #AdiosED in one hour, with a global reach of 1.8 million impressions,” said Allison Epstein, managing editor at Adios Barbie. “Eating disorders are incredibly isolating and lonely things, and it’s easy to feel like no one has ever experienced what you have, or that no one cares.

She said online conversation help people feel like they aren’t alone.

“There’s so much silence and stigma around eating disorders, and providing a safe space like #AdiosED to launch these conversations is a crucial first step to breaking through,” Epstein said.

“I think Twitter parties are so great because of the ability to reach so many people just by uniting over a simple hashtag,” said Grace Manger, internship coordinator at Adios Barbie. “I also think utilizing social media for good, positive, recovery-oriented conversations is a great way to help counteract all of the destructive diet culture that we encounter on a daily basis on our social media feeds.”

Here are some of the best tweets of the evening. But keep tweeting.

Photo at top: Promotional logos for #AudiosED Twitter Party

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Image: Darren Tunnicliff/Flickr

Grace Manger is the internship coordinator of Adios Barbie. Bridget Whitlow, M.S. LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist who focuses on eating disorders. After National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I asked Manger and Whitlow about how to support a friend or loved one going through an eating disorder or recovery.

Eating disorders are complex, devastating and are still not openly talked about. When we suspect a friend or loved one is suffering from disordered eating, we’re unsure what we can do to help. Online communities, such as Adios Barbie, provide places of support and knowledge for people with eating disorders. Grace Manger is the internship coordinator at Adios Barbie.

They’re not diets gone wrong. They’re serious mental illnesses that happen to manifest themselves in these physical ways and in these physical behaviors.

Manger said one of the best ways to help someone is to learn more about eating disorders.

Educate yourself about eating disorder myths and your own preconceptions of eating disorders. That eating disorders are about vanity. They’re about you’re appearance only. That eating disorders only happen to affluent white heterosexual cis-gender women. Both of those things aren’t true. Men get eating disorders. Trans*folks get eating disorders. Queer folks get eating disorders. Eating disorders don’t discriminate and no eating disorders are the same, which also means that no two recoveries.

She said stopping “body talk,” which is talking about your or other bodies, is another way to support someone.

And what I mean by that is engaging in the kind of diet talk that has become so habitual for so many of us. Saying things like “no I shouldn’t eat that” or “that’s too many calories.” Things like that. That can be really harmful and really triggering for people working through their own eating disorders.

Manger said she often suggests prioritizing your own self-care. Self-care could consist of physical activities, meditation or taking time to read a book. Self-care varies for every person.

Supporting someone through this is very difficult. It’s important to take care of yourself too, so you can be of service to them, because if you’re not taking care of yourself first and foremost then you won’t be able to support them the way that they need.

Bridget Whitlow, M.S. LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist who focuses on eating disorders. She gave advice on how to approach a friend or loved one with disordered eating.

The most important thing is to express concern one-on-one in a nonthreatening way. Use just a gentle tone, and be very specific in your concern, and also stick to your own experience. So rather than leading with “you’ve done this”, say “I’ve noticed you haven’t been eating lunch with us anymore and you don’t come out with anymore at night. I’m really worried, and I just wanted to check in with you and see what’s going on.”

Whitlow also provided helpful resources to share.

The Academy for Eating Disorders has many informative videos, so you can give them the website, Another thing you can do is share a link to an anonymous screening, an eating attitudes self-test. That’s at That can be something they do on their own, get anonymous feedback, and that could be really informative.

Further connect with Grace Manger on twitter at @gracemangerand Bridget Whitlow M.S. LMFT at @bridgetwhitlow