How two therapists built a community to get at the root of eating disorders
Featured in this Story of Awesome: Healthy Weigh Out
Launched on Mighty Networks in October 2019, The Healthy Weigh Out Circle of HOPE is a paid membership site offering support and resources to people struggling with eating disorders.
Dr. Ashley’s Mighty Moment: “We were frustrated that it took us a year to find the right way to bring our people online. Thankfully, we found our Mighty Network.”
Dr. Ashley Southard was feeling frustrated.
A licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Ashley had been working alongside her fellow co-director, psychologist Dr. Julie T. Anné, at A New Beginning, an eating disorder treatment center in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The team had spent two decades helping patients recover from eating disorders. But they could only help so many people with their outpatient and intensive outpatient programs (which were also expensive). They recognized that there were many more people were suffering in silence with lifelong binge and emotional eating who couldn’t come to their clinic. That motivated these therapists to look beyond conventional eating disorder treatments.
How could they reach more people with proven programs and practices that would make a meaningful impact on patients’ lives?
The pair had started in 2014 with what they knew best, creating The Healthy Weigh Out as an in-person treatment program catered specifically to people struggling with emotional and binge eating. As the program went on, Dr. Ashley and Dr. Julie shifted to exploring how they could bring their offering online, expanding it to a larger audience beyond the small population of people who could access their center in Scottsdale:
“We wanted to create an online community where we could teach our members about binge and emotional eating. We started looking for platforms where we could give people an educational experience that had a safe, therapeutic feel to it. ”
They started by creating an online program from scratch, with the intention of uploading pre-recorded videos and assignments. But the solution was short-lived: The doctors realized that the hands-off, self-study method wouldn’t resonate with the people they had built it to reach:
“There would have been no way for our members to connect or open up to each other about their own experiences. Knowing that interaction is such a big part of the recovery process, we really felt like there needed to be a way for these people to talk and lend each other support. ”
When they went to look for how they could bring their online courses and a private, safe community together in the same place along with, as they put it, “a safe, therapeutic feel,” their options were limited. They would either need to create a Facebook group (not an option given their sensitive subject and the risk of distractions) or build their own forum (which would likely have low engagement and defeat the purpose of the community).
Stuck and frustrated with the lack of options, Dr. Ashley and Dr. Julie struggled to figure out their next steps. They decided to put the idea of an online treatment solution on the back burner.
Fast forward to the summer of 2019.
By chance, Dr. Julie was invited to be interviewed on a podcast hosted by Glenn Mackintosh, an Australia-based weight management psychologist. On the show, Dr. Julie discussed the work they were doing with The Healthy Weigh Out, and their approach to getting into the emotional and psychological roots of binge eating.
After the podcast went live, Dr. Ashley and Dr. Julie were inundated with emails and phone calls. As it turned out, many people related to what Dr. Julie talked about, and they wanted more.
Just like that, the duo renewed their search for a safe online space for The Healthy Weigh Out where they could connect with members and educate them on the whys and hows of binge and emotional eating.
Soon after, Dr. Julie made another discovery: While listening to a podcast, she heard Mighty Networks founder Gina Bianchini talking about what creators like Dr. Ashley and Dr. Julie could do with a Mighty Network, bringing a community with online courses, smaller breakout groups, events, and more together in one place under their own brand. It clicked right away:
“Once Dr. Julie discovered Mighty Networks, I got this incredibly enthusiastic call and she said, ‘I’ve found the answer. This is what we have to do.'”
With A Mighty Network, The Healthy Weigh Out Circle of HOPE could offer more than just pre-recorded videos. It could also:
- Give Dr. Ashley and Dr. Julie the opportunity to structure online courses to help their members learn more about eating disorders
- Allow members to connect organically and build relationships and support systems with each other
- Let members reach out and ask questions that would otherwise go unanswered
- And because a Mighty Network was available both on the web and on mobile apps, members could get in touch anywhere, any time
Dr. Ashley and Dr. Julie sketched out the details of their Mighty Network over a week-long work retreat. Their first challenge? Figuring out what to charge for membership and what to offer.
The doctors opted for a simple, single membership (a best practice with new membership models). Priced at $29.99 a month or $279.99 a year, their Healthy Weigh Out Circle of HOPE subscription includes exclusive member-only access to:
- Live weekly educational sessions
Every Wednesday, Dr. Ashley and Dr. Julie host “The Deeper Work,” a live educational video cast where they dive deep into the work of healing from emotional and binge eating.
On Thursdays, dietitian and co-host Amy Reynolds hosts “Chew on This,” where she educates members on nutritional issues and how best to create a new, healthy relationship with food.
- Weekly pre-recorded videos
The Healthy Weigh Out Circle of HOPE also provides members with two additional weekly videos. Dr. Julie hosts a weekly video called “Mission Mondays,” where she sets a weekly goal for members. On Saturdays, Dr. Ashley posts “Recovery Hacks,” where she offers tips on making recovery achievable, one small step at a time.
- Weekly Q&As
Dr. Ashley and Dr. Julie encourage members to post questions within their Mighty Network and every week, the doctors come together to answer those questions in a live Q&A video session.
Seven days later, with the structure of their group planned out, they launched The Healthy Weight Out Circle of HOPE:
“We were really excited and just ended up moving very quickly. Dr. Julie and I had waited so long to make this a reality, so once we found a platform that could help us reach more people, it went fast.”
With the community launched, they were now ready to scale.
The next task wouldn’t be easy. Dr. Ashley and Dr. Julie understood the nuances of what it meant to battle an eating disorder. Most of the people who would be interested in their program would be in their 50s and 60s, having struggled with overeating for most of their lives:
“There can be a lot of shame and fear about stepping forward with an eating disorder. But our bet was that for our members, knowing that there was a community out there with people with similar struggles battling the same challenges for decades would go a long way to making them feel safe and comfortable to share.”
But this also meant that the doctors had to find a way to make their online community approachable and easy to understand. They knew they needed to embrace the fact that their prospective members would not be technologically savvy, or might feel skeptical about putting their personal information on the Internet:
“Many of our members tend to be a little bit older, and sometimes the technology feels a little intimidating. They question if it’s secure, because for them, it’s such a private, personal issue. Because of that, we wanted to make sure that they felt very safe with us from the beginning. We reinforced from Day One their privacy and how we were securing it.”
Dr. Ashley created and uploaded a one-minute welcome video on their Landing Page before members joined that explained what The Healthy Weigh Out Circle of HOPE was about, who Dr. Ashley and Dr. Julie were, and showed what new members could expect from a subscription. It was an easy way for people to get comfortable with the privacy and security of The Healthy Weigh Out community and how it worked.
The doctors also put different resources in place for new members, including welcome guides and a series of videos that help ground them in the foundational concepts that Dr. Ashley and Dr. Julie discuss:
“From the beginning, we want our members to feel welcomed and supported in our virtual space. We do a lot of little things to try to make sure that they feel seen and cared for, even though we haven’t met in person. And people love it. The feedback has been both constructive and positive.”
It’s only been a few months, but at 44 members, the Healthy Weigh Out community is on solid ground:
“We’ve been able to reach people who have been wanting to make a change, but when they were trying to make that change alone, it wasn’t working for them. With our Mighty Network, we’ve been able to provide a community for those people, and the support they need.”
And while the path hasn’t been a straight line, Dr. Ashley says that the long road has been more than worth it:
“No matter how many members we have, if we’re helping some people, then we’ve accomplished our goals. And going by what they’re sharing in the community, we feel really confident that a lot of our members are making really great strides already.”
1. The more you know about your ideal members, the better. Dr. Ashley and Dr. Julie were able to anticipate their members’ needs and provide them with thorough welcome resources and videos. That’s because they had invested in really understanding the member who would be the most motivated to join and get results they couldn’t get on their own. They had a firm grasp on who would get the most out of The Healthy Weigh Out community and they stayed focused on those people first.
2. Be clear about what motivates both you and your members. Not only were Dr. Ashley and Dr. Julie very specific about who their community would serve and the results they would get for their members, but they also took the time to articulate how The Healthy Weigh Out community related back to their own mission to help people with binge and emotional eating disorders. Having clarity about the motivation and the specific results they were driving towards made a huge difference in delivering a successful launch.
3. Patience is key. It took awhile for the doctors to find Mighty Networks. But because they treated the search like detective work, approaching it with openness and curiosity, they were able to find the right platform for their community. This approach—treating the process like detective work—is a helpful method, whether you’re looking for a place to host your community, seeking to grow your existing membership, or trying to uncover why engagement is lower than you’d like it to be.