Media guidelines for discussing eating disorders

The media plays an important role in educating people about eating disorders. This is a responsibility that needs to be taken seriously. Similarly, when we “non journalists” talk about eating disorders we need to be careful about the messaging and narratives we perpetuate and portray. Some general guidelines are as follows:

Dos…

  • Consider including a “trigger warning” for graphic content or images, weight references or BMI, if they must be used
  • Ensure the portrayal is that eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes – one does not need to be skeletal to have a serious eating disorder
  • Ensure that all eating disorders, including sub clinical eating disorders are portrayed as serious
  • Promote the fact that complete recovery is possible for anyone and that recovery typically depends on the right timing, therapist and treatment approach for the sufferer
  • Encourage the pursuit of evidence based treatment as a primary treatment option
  • Include a reference to accessing help – The Butterfly Foundation is our national charity in Australia and a great place to start. They can provide specialised phone/ email support and referrals to professional treatment options
  • Remember and respect the fact that everyone’s recovery journey is different
  • Focus on general behaviour rather then detailed descriptions of behaviours (which can become “how to” guides for vulnerable individuals)
  • Ensure recovery narratives include references to the experiences of family and friends – who also suffer considerably and are usually invaluable resources to the recovery of their loved ones

Don’ts…

  • Avoid using numbers of any sort – weights, calories, amount of time spent exercising. This can be triggering and can also reinforce stereotypes about what constitutes a “serious” eating disorder
  • Do not use before/after photos or photos that reinforce a stereotype that one must be skeletal to have a serious eating disorder or that eating disorders are only about body image. It is far more helpful to use images that promote recovery in a positive way
  • Although details of eating disorder behaviour are interesting and may make for a good story, focus instead on the internal experiences of those effected rather than details of what has occurred. Emphasis on details of eating disorder behaviour risks trivialising and sensationalising eating disorders

More comprehensive resources are available at EDV or NEDC.

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