A frightening trend is on the rise: Websites that teach young people how to become anorexic and bulimic are growing in popularity. Here’s what you need to know about this trend.
“Let me be empty and weightless and maybe I’ll find some peace tonight”
This quote was found on a website called Thinspo, followed by dozens of photos of too-skinny girls and countless diet and exercise tips on how to achieve that look.
Eating disorder websites
Thinspo (Thinspiration), Pro-Ana (Pro-Anorexia), Pro-Mia (Pro-Bulimia) and Ed or Eddy (Eating Disorder) are just a few of the terms associated with online communities of people who are dying to be thin. And it’s not, by any means, a secret community. Anyone can type in these keywords and find all the help they need to develop and maintain a serious eating disorder.
“Other than society’s insistence that thinness is everything for women, the Pro-Ana websites are the worst thing that has happened to the fight against the deadly disorder of anorexia,” says clinical psychologist Lavinia Rodriguez, author of Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management. “Pro-Ana fuels the denial that already exists in the disorder and entices vulnerable young people to go down the dangerous path of self-destruction termed ‘anorexia.’
Psychology professor and clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula says, “Sites like Pro-Ana and Thinspo are dangerous. They target women who are already struggling with disordered eating and body image issues and provide fodder for an ongoing focus on thinness, tips for starvation and other information that could put a person’s health at risk.
“They also use dangerous techniques such as ‘us’ vs. ‘them'” adds Dr. Durvasula, “which plays on the thought process of a person with disordered eating who believes the world may be conspiring to make her eat and make her overweight.”
The underlying purpose of Pro-Ana sites differ from one to another. Some sites claim to be a non-judgmental sounding board for anorexics and bulimics who have nowhere else to turn. For example, “Pretty Thin is supportive of recovery. Not everyone wants to recover and forcing them to do so will only encourage more secretive (and potentially more dangerous behavior).
Other sites promote anorexia as a lifestyle choice, not a physiological or mental illness. The first thing you’ll read on Pro-Ana Tips & Tricks is this disclaimer: Please note this IS a Pro-Ana site. If you do not like it nor agree with it, MOVE ON.
Tips & tricks
One Pro-Ana site lists the THIN COMMANDMENTS:
- If you aren’t thin, you aren’t attractive
- Being thin is more important than being healthy
- Buy clothes, cut your hair and take laxatives to make yourself look thinner
- Thou shall not eat without feeling guilty
- Thou shall not eat fattening food without punishing afterwards
- Thou shall count calories and restrict intake accordingly
- What the scale says is the most important thing
- Losing weight is good, gaining weight is bad
- You can never be too thin
- Being thin and not eating are signs of true willpower and success
On these websites, you’ll find endless weight-loss (starvation?) tips for keeping the weight off:
- Eat loads of vegetables and fruit to fill yourself up during every meal.
- Devour anything that helps you lose weight (fiber, cough drops, hoodia)
- Use ephedra (diet pills) to reduce body fat especially if you’re a girl
- Learn how to fast, binge and take laxatives and diuretics
- Drink lots of water (even when you’re not thirsty) to burn more calories by preventing you from storing fat
“Young girls who are vulnerable to restrictive and ritualized eating and compensatory (e.g. purging, excessive exercising) behaviors are also vulnerable to these sites,” says Dr. Durvasula. “Parents, schools and healthcare professionals must be aware of these sites and the dangerous information out there.”