Eating Disorders Treatment How to Find Eating Disorder Support Groups Near You By Lauren Muhlheim, PsyD, CEDS Lauren Muhlheim, PsyD, CEDS Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Lauren Muhlheim, PsyD, is a certified eating disorders expert and clinical psychologist who provides cognitive behavioral psychotherapy. Learn about our editorial process Updated on October 14, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Katarzyna Bialasiewicz / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Why Attend a Support Group? Finding a Support Group What You Should Know Before You Join Risks to Consider If you or someone you love is experiencing an eating disorder, maybe someone has suggested that you find a support group. But, you may be wondering, “What is a support group?” or, “Why should I join one?” or, “How would I even go about finding one?” 9 Essential Facts About Eating Disorders Why Attend a Support Group? Eating disorders can be isolating illnesses. They interfere with your ability to eat with others, making it hard to socialize. Many people with eating disorders experience shame. Support groups consist of individuals with a similar issue, usually led by a leader with either clinical or lived experience. Support groups can help break the isolation and connect you with others with similar life experiences. In addition, they can reduce stigma and isolation. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most support groups were held in person. Since then, many more support groups have taken place primarily online. So even though the world is opening up a little, it appears that support groups will continue to have a solid online presence. Finding a Support Group It is important to start by considering what type of support group you are seeking. If you are a family member of a person with an eating disorder you might be interested in a support group specifically for loved ones. Some support groups are for the person with the eating disorder only, and some are exclusively for their caregivers. Yet others include both. Some support groups gather people with specific eating disorders, such as Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). Some support groups address specific populations such as: Teens with eating disorders Adults with eating disorders Males with eating disorders LGBTQ+ people with eating disorders BIPOC people with eating disorders People in larger bodies with eating disorders Why These Groups Are Important Many of these groups address the needs of people who are either marginalized or may experience stigma in a generalized eating disorder group that does not center and address their specific experiences. A great way to start your search is to look to the large nonprofits that provide multiple eating disorder support groups: The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) runs several virtual support groups. ANAD also sponsors many other affiliate support groups throughout the country. You can search their affiliate directory. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) also has a directory of support groups organized by state. The Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness also has support groups in various locations as well as online. The Eating Disorder Foundation runs many support groups. The FEDUp Collective, an organization that addresses eating disorders in trans and gender diverse individuals through radical community healing, also offers support groups. Support groups led by mental health professionals may limit participants to people in their home state due to the licensing requirements. Support groups led by nonprofessionals or volunteers may be open to people in a broader geographic area. To find an in-person eating disorder support group or a support group near you, you can always try a search engine. Many treatment centers offer free support groups as part of their marketing and outreach. If you find local treatment centers in your area you can call or look online to see if they have a support group. What You Should Know Before You Join An eating disorder support group is not a substitute for individual therapy—it should usually be used in addition to individual therapy and dietary counseling. You should research any support group you’re considering to make sure it makes clear any commercial relationship it has and is not just marketing for other services you may not be seeking. You should also be aware that any support group is only as good as the leader of that group. Leaders may be professionals (people with advanced training in mental health) or peers (often volunteers with lived experience in the issue). In many clinical settings, support groups are run by the least experienced therapists or trainees. As a result, group leaders may change without warning, and how well the group is run can change. The format will vary from group to group. For example, some may be more structured and educational, and others may be less directed with no actual structure. Still, others are somewhere in the middle, with some education and some unstructured time. You might want to try out a group and see if you like the format that is offered. Group leaders must provide a safe space for participants to be vulnerable. They should clarify any group rules ahead of time and discuss rules around confidentiality and contact outside the group. They should be able to facilitate a discussion that allows for diverse viewpoints to be expressed and validated. Support groups for mental health issues have been shown to improve self-efficacy, coping skills, self-esteem, social support, and the reduction of psychiatric symptoms. Research on eating disorder support groups show they can reduce stigma and isolation and increase motivation and engagement in recovery. Risks to Consider Eating disorders are one of the few mental health disorders for which our culture perversely praises the symptoms (e.g., dietary restriction, excessive exercise, and emaciated bodies). In her memoir, "How to Disappear Completely," Kelsey Osgood details how competitive she was with peers in her treatment groups to be the sickest. In any support group, leaders should be mindful of this risk; eating disorder symptoms should not be glorified. However, each participant needs to gauge their own risk from exposure to others who may be more ill. You are advised to consult with your treatment team and approach support groups with caution. If you or a loved one are coping with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline for support at 1-800-931-2237. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. 3 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Worrall H, Schweizer R, Marks E, Yuan L, Lloyd C, Ramjan R. The effectiveness of support groups: a literature review. Mental Health and Social Inclusion. 2018;22(2):85-93. Waller A, Paganini C, Andrews K, Hutton V. The experience of adults recovering from an eating disorder in professionally-led support groups. Qualitative Research Journal. 2020. Osgood, K. How to disappear completely: On modern anorexia. New York, NY: Overlook Duckworth, Peter Mayer; 2013. By Lauren Muhlheim, PsyD, CEDS Lauren Muhlheim, PsyD, is a certified eating disorders expert and clinical psychologist who provides cognitive behavioral psychotherapy. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Eating Disorders Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.