A content analysis of an online pro-eating disorder community on Reddit

Shaina J. Sowles, Monique McLeary, Allison Optican, Elizabeth Cahn, Melissa J. Krauss, Ellen E. Fitzsimmons-Craft, Denise E. Wilfley, Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Pro-eating disorder communities provide a refuge for individuals with eating disorders (EDs) who are ambivalent about seeking treatment. We investigated a pro-ED community on Reddit, an anonymous social networking platform with topical forums, to identify expression of behaviors aligned with ED symptoms and support for these behaviors. A content analysis on four weeks of topic-specific discussion threads (N = 125 comments, 115 replies to comments) was conducted to identify behaviors consistent with ED psychopathology and support for these behaviors (informational, tangible assistance, esteem/emotional support). Results indicated that the content aligned with expressions of clinically relevant ED psychopathology, with eating concerns (49/125) and shape concerns (47/125) being most prevalent. The majority (92/115) of replies provided esteem/emotional support to the comment author. Online interventions and/or recovery programs are needed to counteract reinforcing dialogue that occurs on social media sites, like Reddit, and promote ED recovery through supportive messages on these platforms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-144
Number of pages8
JournalBody Image
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


  • Content analysis
  • Disordered eating
  • Eating disorder symptoms
  • Reddit
  • Social media
  • Social support


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