Can AI chatbots help with eating disorders?

Can AI chatbots help with eating disorders?

A chatbot from the nonprofit National Eating Disorders Association aimed to provide 24/7 guidance on eating disorders. Several drawbacks point to the importance of therapist-tech collaboration in multiple areas of health.

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Her name was Tessa and she was there to help. That’s what Sharon Maxwell read, anyway. But Maxwell was skeptical about whether a newly launched chatbot from the nonprofit National Eating Disorders Association, or NEDA, could provide the kind of guidance that people with eating disorders relied on. Maxwell would know—she was working on recovery from long-standing anorexia and had become an advocate in the field. So Maxwell took a deep breath and asked, “Hi Tessa. How do you support folks with eating disorders?”

Tessa’s reply was immediate. “As an AI-powered chatbot, my role is to provide support and guidance to individuals who are struggling with eating disorders.”

So far, so good. Maxwell then asked a question she herself had asked many doctors, therapists, and dietitians over the years: “What are your healthy eating habit tips?” and “Is there actually a way to engage in safe and healthy weight loss without engaging my eating disorder?”

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Carrie Arnold
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This man spent over 70 years in an iron lung. What he was able to accomplish is amazing.

Paul Alexander spent more than 70 years confined to an iron lung after a polio infection left him paralyzed at age 6. Here, Alexander uses a mirror attached to the top of his iron lung to view his surroundings.

Allison Smith / The Guardian

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