Promoting Connection: Designing Social Media Experiences to Support People with Eating Disorders

International Conference on Design & Emotion 2016


Eating disorders are characterized by extreme emotions, beliefs, and behaviors related to weight and food. They can cause serious psychological and physical problems and have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Research has established the strong connection between disordered eating and emotion, namely that the disordered behaviors around eating serve as a coping response to deal with distressing and overwhelming emotion. Instead of focusing on the behaviors or outcomes of an eating disorder, effective support should include addressing the underlying emotional experience of someone with an eating disorder. Social media companies are at a unique advantage to provide support for those who post eating disorder related content by offering more supportive experiences that better match people’s needs. This paper explores ways to address the emotional needs of social media users through designing experiences that (a) make people feel seen and heard by focusing on their suffering and emotions rather than their eating behaviors; (b) help people feel they belong by focusing on activities and opportunities that enable connection with themselves and things they value; and (c) help people feel in control by focusing on resources and information to receive support or take steps toward recovery.

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