Virtual Healing in the Digital Age

Eating disorder. Simply say the words and there are many others that immediately spring to mind. For each person, the association will be different; however, one thing is clear – it’s an emotionally charged issue. As a former eating disorder sufferer, I confess that one of the words I didn’t anticipate encountering on my journey with anorexia was also one of the most damaging – isolation. As the years passed, my ED injured not only me, but also my relationships with my friends, my family, and my world in general. In fact, my “rock bottom” moment came when I recognized that I had prioritized my eating disorder and my relationship with food to the exclusion of all others. I had cut myself off completely; and, with this awareness, I had a choice to make. I’m happy to say that my hunger to reconnect with the outside world eventually became greater than my fear of food. I started down the road to wellness and, like many others, my recovery was marked with struggle but also success. I was fortunate to be encouraged in my efforts by a supportive therapeutic community. Ultimately, I believe that the cultivation of this sense of “re-connection” was one of the cornerstones to my success; and I feel that the opportunity to “re-engage” with a community is vital to anyone hoping to overcome this disorder.

With recent advents in technology and social media, this traditional community building approach has gone virtual, and one of the groups capitalizing off the success of this emerging trend is Looking Glass, a B.C.-based eating disorder foundation responsible for initiatives like the Woodstone Residence treatment facility, summer camps and online support groups. Since September 2012, I’ve been involved with Looking Glass as an online facilitator in their virtual support groups. When I first started volunteering, I confess I was a little skeptical about their efficacy and ability to provide help. Most of my therapy had been one-on-one and as I had always been too afraid to go to a face-to-face support group, my experience with this type of “community building” work was minimal. However, a few months in, I’ve been truly surprised and inspired by the potential of this medium to aid people in recovery, foster a sense of community and combat the isolation that can be so devastating to eating disorder sufferers.

In my experience, the online forums have provided users from a wide variety of backgrounds the opportunity to reach out and connect with other sufferers who are interested in working together on the road to recovery. Two of the greatest benefits that I’ve noticed with this format are the ease of access and the anonymity. Many users are dipping their toe into a support group environment for the first time, and the ability to speak without fear of judgment or reprisal is very liberating. Also, with provincial program access limited, either geographically or financially, and space at a premium, the online forum provides free resources and engagement for participants. In the online community, users engage with one other on a regular basis, giving and receiving emotional support and a nurturing a sense of connection amongst those sufferers who are unable or unwilling to attend face-to-face support groups, effectively allowing them to experience the benefits of community from the comfort of their own home. To me, whether virtual or live, this is one of the most valuable gifts that eating disorder survivors can provide each other, and I for one am happy and proud to be a part of this healing experience.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the online support groups offered by Looking Glass, check out our website at or register at Groups meet Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 7:30 – 9:00 in Western Canada and 7:30 – 9:00 in Eastern Canada.

Vanessa Smith an English Lit. graduate from UBC and works in Human Resources. She is recreational blogger and the published author of a novella entitled Grace. A recovered anorexic, she volunteers part-time with Looking Glass as an online support group facilitator and is pursuing a career in Counselling Psychology.