A Nonprofit Fired Its Staff and Offered Up an Eating Disorder Chatbot — Then It Started Giving Disturbing Advice A psychologist who specializes in eating disorders received "really contrary" suggestions when testing the bot.

By Amanda Breen

Carol Yepes | Getty Images

It's been months since Goldman Sachs economists predicted AI could replace up to 300 million workers around the world, and the impact is already being felt.

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) shuttered its helpline, which was run by a small group of paid staff and volunteers, in May and suggested people turn to a chatbot called Tessa in its place — but the tech was suspended after it dispensed some damaging advice, WIRED reported.

Related: 5 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health | Entrepreneur

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), 9% of the U.S. population, or 28.8 million Americans, will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. The high cost of healthcare in the U.S. means that many seeking help rely on free resources, like those provided by ANAD and NEDA.

NEDA's chatbot, which is built to deliver a cognitive behavioral therapy-based program to prevent eating disorders and does not use generative AI technologies, has been available as a free resource since February 2022. It was designed to supplement human interaction, both Liz Thompson, NEDA CEO, and Ellen Fitzsimmons-Craft, a professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine who worked on developing the program, told WIRED.

But when Alexis Conason, a psychologist who specializes in eating disorders, tested out the chatbot, it offered advice "really contrary to any kind of eating disorder treatment." The bot suggested weight loss when presented with body image issues and said sustainable weight loss involves cutting 500-1,000 calories per day.

Related: Now Is the Time to Start Embracing Mental Health in the Workplace

It's unclear if and when access to Tessa will be restored, but Thompson told WIRED a forthcoming website will feature more content and resources alongside in-person events.

ANAD's free eating disorders helpline is available to provide emotional support and referrals: 1 (888)-375-7767

Amanda Breen

Entrepreneur Staff

Features Writer

Amanda Breen is a features writer at Entrepreneur.com. She is a graduate of Barnard College and received an MFA in writing at Columbia University, where she was a news fellow for the School of the Arts.

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