National Eating Disorders Association Pulls Chatbot Amid Controversy Over Harmful Dieting Advice

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The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), a nonprofit organization supporting individuals affected by eating disorders, has disabled its wellness chatbot named Tessa. This action was taken after two users, Sharon Maxwell, and Alexis Conason, reported that Tessa provided them with dieting advice that promoted disordered eating behaviors.

The users shared their experiences on Instagram, stating that Tessa advised them to count calories, recommended a weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week, and encouraged dietary restrictions. Such behavior is considered symptomatic of an eating disorder by experts, including NEDA.  

As per NBC News, Liz Thompson, CEO of NEDA, explained that Tessa had undergone rigorous testing before quietly launching in February 2022. However, due to the concerns raised by the users’ feedback, the chatbot will be pulled until further notice.

Thompson emphasized that Tessa’s language contradicts NEDA’s policies and core beliefs. The organization works with its technology and research teams to investigate and address the issue before relaunching the chatbot.  

NEDA’s CEO also mentioned that the mental health artificial intelligence company supporting Tessa, X2AI (also known as Cass), reported a surge in traffic of 600% and observed behavior from bad actors attempting to trick Tessa. A representative from X2AI still needs to respond to requests for comment.  

Maxwell and Conason criticized the lack of nuance in Tessa’s support for individuals with eating disorders. Maxwell, a fat activist and weight-inclusivity consultant, expressed surprise at the chatbot’s detailed directives promoting disordered behaviors.

Conason agreed, highlighting that chatbots like Tessa often serve as the only resource available for individuals due to limited access to mental health care.  

NEDA had been transitioning away from its helpline to rely on Tessa to replace the phone line by June 1 entirely. However, Tessa was taken offline on Tuesday, two days before the scheduled transition.

Thompson clarified that Tessa never intended to replace the helpline, but the helpline ceased operations on Thursday. NEDA made this decision after three years of analysis and plans to invest in more online resources to provide accessible help and treatment options.  

The announcement of the helpline’s shutdown came shortly after its workers gained federal recognition for their union. The helpline had six paid employees and over 200 volunteers. The union, Helpline Associates Union, released a statement on Twitter expressing their concern about the decision.



It emphasized that a chatbot cannot replace human empathy and that the move will cause irreparable harm to the eating disorders community. As of now, both the helpline and Tessa are unavailable. However, NEDA’s website provides information about a volunteer-run text line and other crisis resources for immediate help. 

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