February 18, 2016

Eating Disorders Awareness Week is next week (22nd-28th February 2016). If you’re covering eating disorder-related issues here are some points to consider to make it accurate, responsible and de-stigmatising.

Show your readers where to get help.

The most important thing to remember when writing about mental health issues is to include contact details for sources of help and support for readers who are distressed by the article’s content. When writing about eating disorders, include the contact details for Bodywhys, The Eating Disorders Association of Ireland, LoCall Helpline: 1890 200 444, email support alex@bodywhys.ie

Avoid unnecessary specifics.

Steer clear of using numbers to describe things like weight lost or gained or calories consumed. Detailed descriptions of behaviours engaged in by someone with an eating disorder can provide vulnerable readers with new ideas as to how, for example, they might restrict their own food intake.

As well as this, too much focus on food-related behaviour can overshadow the complex emotional issues that are at the root of eating disorders.

Try not to sensationalise.

Sensational headlines when discussing eating disorders are unhelpful. They can trivialise the experiences of people affected by eating disorders and contribute to an atmosphere of fear around the long term health implications.

This goes for celebrity stories, too. Eating disorders are real life issues that affect real people. Reports about celebrities’ experiences of eating disorders should be put into perspective and establish a connection with the lived reality of most people who experience them. 

Leave out low-weight images.

Images of people at very low weight to illustrate articles on eating disorders are unhelpful. This can be extremely triggering for vulnerable people and may be viewed as an ideal to strive for.

As well as this, low-weight images can emphasise the stereotype that all eating disorders involve weight loss. This can alienate those affected by bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, making it more difficult for them to seek help.

Instead, try to use images that suggest a person’s mindset when they are suffering from an eating disorder, and the disparity between a person’s sense of themselves and the reality. 

Don’t quote from pro-eating disorders websites.

Refrain from quoting passages or reproducing images found on pro-anorexia or pro-bulimia sites. This type of reporting may reinforce eating disordered thinking in vulnerable persons. Highlighting the dangers of these forums is a good idea, but care should be taken not to signpost vulnerable people to the sites.

These guidelines are based on the Bodywhys media guidelines, available at http://www.bodywhys.ie/media/media-guidelines/