Eating disorder support groups are many in number. They exist on the Internet, in most local communities, and as part of continuing support for people who have completed inpatient programs. These groups can be tailored to specific types of eating disorders: compulsive overeating or binge eating, anorexia, bulimia, and others. In contrast they might be general groups that help people with any type of eating disorder. They can also have differences in structure including whether they are peer-led or led by a counselor or expert on these conditions, and such groups may be differently defined by approach, times of weekly meetings and other factors. Thus people may have a lot of choice when they look at eating disorder groups, and it can take some time to pick the best one, though there are some general guidelines to follow.
A first decision could be comfort level with Internet or face-to-face support. Some evidence does exist that face-to-face groups are better, but in small communities this may not be an option. When no local group exists, people should ask their doctors or other professionals who have worked with them on this condition to recommend the best online eating disorder support groups, and if they don’t have private professional support, they should seriously consider getting it first. Professionals are a much better source of information than are peers who might be fighting the same disease. In certain circumstances, after people have undergone treatment, a group is easy to find and is a natural extension of a treatment program; this may be a great choice to maintain program goals and might be offered online or in person.
The issue of what conditions eating disorder support groups address is valuable to consider. Some people feel just fine working in a group that is tailored to anybody with any type of disorder. Others find the fundamental differences in thinking between things like overeating and anorexia make it hard to get enough specific information and support for one type of these conditions. A number of people may feel most comfortable in eating disorder support groups that more specifically address their conditions.
Peer-led and counselor led eating disorder support groups exist. In peer-led groups, people who have recovered or are recovering from the disorder typically lead. Counselor led groups involve using an expert in the field to help keep the group going in a certain direction. There can be advantages and disadvantages to both.
Counselor-led groups can keep an eye on members and make certain they are not positing dangerous behavior strategies that might need additional treatment, and they may also be able to organize group dynamics so all attending can participate and feel supported. Peer-led groups have the advantage of being led by people who can intimately understand what it’s like to have an eating disorder; there are many of these groups that are 12-step programs and based on the organizational structure of Alcoholics Anonymous. These may work well for some people and not well for others, who want more guidance or protection in a group.
When a lot of choices in eating disorder groups are available, it might take some time to find a group that feels best. People can try several to determine which one is likely to offer the most chances of support for continued recovery. If few groups are available, people could still investigate any options, or weight the benefits of Internet versus offline support. For many people, group work is best done when accompanied by greater medical assistance from doctors or therapists that can more specifically address a person’s individual needs and struggles with an eating disorder.