The pro-ana movement consists of blogs, websites, and chat forums in which people with anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders support practices involved with anorexia or weight loss. These sites may strengthen the disease of anorexia, as people involved in the discussions often praise weight loss and discourage healthy body shape and size. Photographs of desperately thin people populate the pages, too, and that can make some visitors feel as though they are severely overweight and unlovable, even if they are at normal, healthy weights.
Communities, be they virtual or physical, support one another. Typically, communities have a positive connotation, like a mutual aid groups. But sometimes, members of a community can encourage one another to engage in dangerous, unhealthy behaviors.
A discussion of pro-ana presents challenges; individuals who are members/visitors of these sites may feel threatened by observations about the dangers of pro-ana while those who are concerned about a loved one’s eating disorder require guidance. While individuals who are experiencing eating disorders often feel isolated and can benefit from a peer community, pro-ana guidance is the opposite of medically sound advice and can cause health problems to worsen.
These pro-ana websites are accessible via a simple online search, and they are also available on social media. Site names often make their nature and purpose evident, such as “Starving for Perfection,” “2b-Thin,” and “Anorexic Nation.” The proliferation of pro-ana websites illustrates a symptom of eating disorders themselves – the individuals who face them typically want to continue engaging in these behaviors despite the many physical and emotional negatives they experience.
Much of the dangerous influence pro-ana sites have over visitors and members is invisible because they act at the psychological level. From the outside looking in, a person who is not experiencing an eating disorder may be shocked and confused.
These sites tend to turn assumptions about anorexia and bulimia on their head; rather than seeing and treating these disorders as illnesses, they are discussed as if they are a viable way of life. In fact, at least one site takes offense to individuals calling themselves “anorexic” because that label assumes there is something wrong with this condition.
The pro-ana response is extreme, dangerous, and potentially deadly. A healthy response – a balanced diet and exercise regimen – would conflict with the black-and-white, or extreme, thinking associated with eating disorders.
The harm associated with pro-ana sites has led to concerned individuals exerting pressure on servers to take down these sites. While some servers, such as Yahoo, have stopped allowing detected pro-ana sites to operate, individuals in the pro-ana community have found workarounds, such as running “diet sites” that contain the same information. In short, changing the name of sites or stopping use of the keyword “pro-ana” can allow individuals to get around these blocks. It is difficult for internet servers to block content that is pro-ana in substance, so in essence, the information may still be posted online.
Disclaimer: AAC treatment centers do not treat anorexia. It’s important for those in need to receive comprehensive care at a specialized facility.