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Eating Disorders and the Internet
This article examines the rise of eating disorder websites. Eating disorders are most common in young women (both teenagers and young adults). Because this demographic is also known as a high-level Internet user, the proliferation of online eating disorder (ED) communities is of particular concern to ED support groups (ANAD 2006). The eating disorder community is known as “Pro-Ana” (pro-anorexics), a term used both for their community and to describe the individual. While Pro-Ana is used to describe a person who is “pro-anorexic”, bulimics use the term Pro-Mia (pro-bulimic). In this definition, people who identify as “pro-anorexic” or “pro-bulimic” accept their eating disorder and generally view it as a lifestyle choice rather than a disease or disorder. Pro-Ana communities are typically not limited to anorexics and typically include bulimics and other eating disorders in the community.
Pro-Ana websites represent themselves as online communities for those who are existing Anorexics and as such are not designed (as is often assumed) to lure non-disease sufferers. For people who join them, they can be a ‘place’ to accept their status without moral prejudice or social stigma, and a site where they can get advice, tips and support from anorexics to help them become ‘better’ anorexics. Although some of the Pro-Ana sites will also offer links to recovery and health sites, being “Pro-Ana” symbolizes a choice. no to go to recovery. Pro-Anorexics, if you identify as “Pro-Ana” then by definition you have chosen to live as an anorexic or bulimic at this point. The term “permarexic” can also be used to describe those people who choose to live with their ED for the foreseeable future.
Overview of Eating Disorders
An eating disorder (ED) is characterized by a preoccupation with weight that leads to severe eating and subsequently other behavioral disorders. Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, and generalized eating disorders such as purging, binge drinking, and night eating. The two most common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Anorexia can be defined as a feeling of self because this disorder is associated with a refusal to maintain a minimally normal body weight, a distorted body image and a fear of obesity or weight gain (CEED 2006). People with anorexia usually develop abnormal eating habits, such as avoiding food and meals, choosing certain foods and eating them in small amounts, weighing food, and counting calories for everything they eat. Its incidence is increasing in the Western world and it has been described as one of the most lethal psychiatric disorders (Lucas et al 1999 in Hsu 2001). Bulimic patients engage in repeated episodes of binge eating, followed by ways of trying to purge food from the body to prevent expected weight gain, using methods such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, enemas or medications while fasting, and/or excessive exercise to gain weight. for control (CEED 2006).
General aspects of the Pro-Ana website
In order to research this article, I had to spend some time following dead links and searching carefully until I found some functioning websites for existing eating disorder sufferers. The public attitude towards many of these sites is that they have to constantly change their addresses to avoid censorship, or they are shut down voluntarily due to harassment and outcry, or they are arbitrarily shut down by their ISPs. Pro-Ana communities manage to stay alive by frequently changing website addresses and announcing new web addresses in their community group.
Diaries: Many of the authors on these sites offer personal stories about their struggles with anorexia or bulimia and how they struggle with hunger, how they feel about their body image, and how they struggle with self-control and self-image. While some people’s intention is to promote weight loss among the website’s readers, the writers’ constant struggle and self-loathing and self-reproach do not make anorexia or bulimia attractive. Diaries are also places to keep journals of food intake, as well as “revealing” unwanted attempts by family members or friends to get the blogger to recover from illness, or the struggles she has to hide her lack of eating from other people. in the world.
Discussion forums: So that participants can discuss their eating, weight and feelings. Forums act as both a source of nutrition information and nutrition support, as well as a place to share your feelings and vent in a non-judgmental environment. I observed that members are very supportive and protective of each other.
Weight Loss Tools: Such a BMI (Body Mass Index) calculators, homeopathic remedies and pharmaceutical tablets. However, a Google search any day will turn up similar information on many non-Pro-Ana sites.
Tips for food and drink: Glycemic counters, calorie counters, lists of foods with a negative calorie value, recipes for drinks and dishes. In fact, all the things you can buy in a regular women’s or girl’s magazine at your local newsstand.
Recovery room: a discussion forum specifically for eating disorder recovery. I only found it on a few sites.
More militant Pro-Ana sites usually have some of these additional attributes:
Tips and Tricks: Mostly a list of methods, tricks and hints to make the fasting process easier. If the parents make the teenager see a nutritionist or counselor, this can give hints on how to hide weight loss from relatives and weekly weigh-ins. These lists may also include clear information on how to throw up after meals with the least amount of discomfort, or what to eat to make vomiting happen faster, and which foods are the easiest to purge. This section will also include tips for avoiding eating and not clinging (eg getting up early, washing cereal and milk in a bowl and leaving it in the sink so your parents think you’ve eaten before them).
Thinking does exactly what the name suggests: inspires readers to be thin with pictures of unhealthy models and movie stars. Images of young celebrity role models are favorites, including teen stars Lindsay Lohan, Mischa Barton and Nicole Ritchie. Thinking can also include articles about fatness, famous people’s height and weight, and provocative quotes such as “Nothing tastes as good as thinness” or “Food hinders progress.” Some Pro-Ana websites also encourage the use of a personal “Thinspiration Book” to carry around at all times as a reminder when a person cannot be near a computer, or recommend wearing bracelets to mark specific eating disorders and remind the user. from her status (red for example for anorexia and purple for bulimia). Less militant sites do not include the word “Thinspiration” and may also ban tips and warn users that they will be banned if they offer tips about vomiting, hiding food, etc. In addition, they can also provide more information on related fields. dangers such as dental problems, heart disease, and diabetes as potentially dangerous for ED sufferers.
Ana is my friend
Pro-Anorexia websites are able to give eating disorder experts unprecedented insight into their patients’ worlds, revealing an obsession with the disease that can surprise even veteran eating disorder observers. For example, in some cases it can be observed that younger sufferers personalize their illness and call them “Ana” (or “Mia” for girls with Buli symptomsmia), and some girls even worship him as a type of “deity”:
I tried recovery once and gained so much weight that my savior mia came back to save me just when I needed it the most (Anon Bulimic)
Pro-Ana Sites and Support
I found that there is Pro-Ana site grades. While some did not recognize the possibility of recovery, others recognized that some patients wanted to recover from their illness and therefore focused on support and community rather than diet advice. In this way, they are an important forum for what can be both marginalized and misunderstood segments of society. For young girls who suffer from social stigma and misunderstanding about their eating disorder, simply being able to connect with others who share the same problem can be a huge relief:
I am an active bulimic and know that I would be in serious trouble right now if I didn’t connect with other mias/anas through the sites I have been on. It really is necessary to somehow release your thoughts and feelings, and websites are a great way to do that… (Anon Bulimic) I think taking away these sites would mean taking away a valuable support network that we need to carry on not with our illness, but with our lives. Most of these people can’t get support from family or friends, and they go to these sites to talk about what they’re going through freely, without judgment. (Anon EdNOS sufferer).
However, it is this aspect of community and belonging and how it interacts with eating disorders that worries some experts. Pro-Ana communities in this case may inadvertently promote eating disorders because they provide the environment and opportunity to belong to the “eating disorder club.” Other experts agree, arguing that these “pro” eating disorder websites are potentially deadly because they normalize and validate the very behaviors that define the illness (Hayashi 2006, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders, ANAD website).
In a democratic society, people use the Internet to form both healthy and questionable alliances, such is the nature of the medium. While some argue that Pro-Ana sites should be shut down, others question the ethics of censorship and argue that simply banning them does not solve the problem. For people who support anorexia or bulimia, eating disorders are a lifestyle choice, and the Pro-Ana websites are a support group for people who use them. However, many others, including family and friends of ED sufferers, as well as medical and mental health professionals, see the pro-eating disorder community as disturbing and dangerous, arguing that Pro-Ana websites serve to normalize the disease and make it ‘okay’ to be anorexic. . I believe that this connection between the Internet and eating disorders is not well understood and is an area that requires further and ongoing research.
Glossary of terms
Ana – Anorexia Nervosa Mia or Bella – Bulimia.
Pro-Anas and Pro-Mias – Bulimics and anorexics, who see their disease as a way of life, refuse to admit that they are thin and continue to try to lose weight.
Permarexic – a person who has made the decision to live on only as much food as is necessary to sustain life and has adopted this as a philosophy of life.
Rexy – a term used by anorexics who believe they live a controlled lifestyle, not Anas who Rexy thinks is sick.
Thinking – quotes or pictures of very thin models or movie stars that serve as inspiration to stay thin.
ED – eating disorders.
ED-NOS – Eating disorders not otherwise specified (vomiting, purging, binge eating).
American Psychiatric Association: In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (APA DSM-IV), (2000) Fourth edition, text revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association Press.
Anorexia Nervosa and related eating disorders. Inc. Website
Hsu, LK (2001). “Pathogenesis of Anorexia Nervosa,” Hong Kong Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 11, Vol. 3, pp. 7-12.
MEDLINEplus: Eating Disorders Web site National Institutes of Health National Library of Medicine website.
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders (ANAD) PO Box 7, Highland Park, IL 60035 USA, see their website.
National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website.
National Institutes of Health website: “Eating Disorders”, Pew Internet and American Life Project (2001) “Teenage Life Online: Instant Message Generation and the Internet’s Impact on Friendship and Family Relationships”.
Royal Australian Children’s Hospital Victoria (CEED) Center for Excellence in Eating Disorders website.
© Angela Lewis 2006
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