Today I wanted to discuss something that I’ve mentioned on this blog before, but I felt it would be appropriate to mention again as part of my Eating Disorder Awareness week posts. As you will know if you follow me on any social media platform, I am very strongly against the glorification and promotion of mental illnesses, including eating disorders, so today I’m going to be talking about the pro-Ana community.
From research for a college project in the last few weeks, I feel that I understand a lot more about why pro-Ana communities do what they do. I think that the lack of discussion of eating disorders has led to them becoming an ‘underground’ topic, causing many people with nowhere else to turn to seek comfort in ‘pro-Ana’ communities. ‘Pro-Ana’, short for pro-anorexia, refers to the promotion of behaviour relating to the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. Closely linked to this community are ‘pro-Mias’, who promote behaviour linked to bulimia nervosa. MyProAna, a site started in December 2012, currently has 115,000 members. According to Wikipedia, 84% of these users endorse anorexia as desirable, while 64% promote bulimia in the same way.
Mostly communicating on platforms like Instagram on Tumblr, pro-Ana posts generally discourage eating, and tell those who have healthy eating patterns that they should feel bad about it, and replace them with extremely harmful ‘Ana diets’. A notable example of these is the Ana Training Diet (A.I.T.), which offers ‘training’ to people to develop anorexia. The highest number of calories it suggests for someone to eat in a day is 850, despite the fact that experts recommend that even when losing weight, a woman should eat around 1500 calories daily to lose one pound of weight per week, while an average should eat around 2000 to do the same. The post then goes on to say “to recover, do this in reverse”, as if an eating disorder can just be switched on when convenient, then off again when you are happy with your weight. Sadly, many people genuinely follow the advice of posts like this, with horrible consequences.
Popular pro-Ana quotes include “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, from model Kate Moss, and “skip dinner, wake up thinner”. These quotes are shared with the intention of people using them as motivation to continue starving themselves in pursuit of weight loss, despite the damage that this will cause to their body. Some users even share and encourage people to follow ‘The Thin Commandments’, which include “being thin is more important than being healthy” and “thou shall not eat without feeling guilty”. This post also claims that “you can never be too thin”, and is completely public, with the potential to reach any easily influenced minds.
Members of pro-Ana and pro-Mia communities often compete to lose weight, as well as offering advice on how to suppress hunger pangs, induce vomiting, and hide weight loss from doctors. Sadly, these communities are not as harmless as they claim to be, or that they think they are.
In August 2013, 17 year old Grainne Binns spoke to the Daily Mail about how anorexia blogs “nearly killed her”. Even when Grainne weighted less than 6 stone, her friends on these sites still called her fat and encourage her to lose weight, which fuelled her pre-existing feelings of being fat that were brought on by seeing ‘thinspiration’- images of dangerously underweight people (usually teenage girls) used to motivate people to lose weight. Around 84% of MyProAna users are believed to share thinspiration. Grainne said: “I wanted to look just like them”. The Telegraph also published an article about pro-eating disorder websites, claiming that 2/3rds of eating disorder sufferers will have visited such sites. In this article, David, a man is his forties from London who has struggled with anorexia and bulimia for 30 years, shared his experiences with eating disorder websites, claiming that his “addiction to them contributed to a breakdown” at the time that his disorders took over his life.
Although there is no evidence that pro-Ana or pro-Mia sites can cause eating disorders, it is clear that they can have a destructive influence on unstable minds. The same can be said about blogs that glorify self-harm and suicide, with some of the most popular posts from such blogs referring to self-injury as “art”, and suicide as “going to wonderland”. SelfHarm.co.uk reported that in 2014, there was a 70% increase in 10-14 year olds visiting A&E for self-inflicted injuries over the previous 2 years, and according to Samaritans, suicide rates in the UK are generally increasing. On a personal level, I feel that they way that some online communities glorify mental illness has greatly affected me and my own issues with mental health.
Another reason that the promotion of eating disorders bothers me so much is because it is being seen more and more often in the media, with magazines promoting fad diets that involve food restriction or other behaviours associated with eating disorders. As I mentioned in my ‘Eating Disorder Misconceptions‘ post yesterday, this is leading to the idea that eating disorders themselves are a choice, and trivialising the illnesses in a very harmful way. Similarly, pro-Ana posts that refer to eating disorders as a ‘lifestyle choice’ reinforce the idea that people can simply snap out of them, and this can stop people taking sufferers seriously, as well as deterring sufferers from seeking help because they are worried that their disorder will be seen as a choice, or a phase which will pass easily.
Overall, I wanted to write this post to make sure that people know that these communities in no way represent sufferers of eating disorders. Regardless of what these people imply through their actions, eating disorders are serious mental illnesses with extremely detrimental consequences, not trends, phases, or choices. If you are a part of these communities, I urge you to do research into the effects of the eating disorders that they encourage and make sure that you understand what a serious impact your actions can have if you begin to use eating disorder behaviours as a method of weight loss. And to anyone who actively shares these posts and encourages others to restrict their food intake or purge, I urge you to stop. Your actions are influencing people and worsening their disorders. Most importantly though, I hope that you seek help for yourself. Regardless of what these communities tell you, you are more than your weight, and you deserve to recover. Friday’s post will discuss how to seek help for an eating disorder, but there is plenty of information online already about how to find treatment.
Thank you for reading! I hope you have found this post helpful and I wish you the best of luck in your recovery. Keep growinggg!