Eating Disorders and the Internet
This chapter aims to highlight the role that the internet can play in the lives of people with eating disorders and in the work of clinicians who treat them. The internet is a powerful tool, but there are many questions associated with its use. How accurate and useful is the information provided? Can people be treated effectively over the internet, and what are the implications of this? How can the internet best be used as an adjunct to face-toface therapy? Does direct “on-line” counseling deter people in need from seeking more direct and evidence-based interventions? Do chat rooms perpetuate eating disorders? What ethical issues are raised by sufferers exchanging diet “tips,” and should we try to guide our patients away from “pro-anorexia” web sites?
It is said that there are over 27,000 internet sites relating to eating disorders. Many provide information about the different types of eating disorder. The largest web site (“Something Fishy”) contains over 400 pages, emphasizes recovery, and provides information on the physical and psychological consequences of having an eating disorder. Ensuring the accuracy of material on the internet is a perennial problem, although the information provided by governmental mental health web sites and specialized sites run by recognized eating disorder organizations is usually reliable. Such sites are also more commonly updated and may be more durable than sites that are primarily dependent upon the efforts of one person. Some web sites provide less than helpful information, such as those that deny the existence of adverse physical effects and sites that suggest that a body mass index (BMI) of 17 is entirely healthy.
Table 66.1 presents a small selection of some of the most prominent web sites related to eating disorders.