The Internet has changed how we access information. It can be gathered more quickly and easily than in days past. Unfortunately, the Internet can also be a breeding group for destructive information. One of the types of destructive information found on the Internet is how to act on and conceal eating disorder behavior.
“Ana” has become a way to refer to Anorexia and “Mia” to Bulimia on websites known as “pro-ana” or “pro-mia” websites. These Internet pages usually list tips for maintaining an eating disorder such as cutting calories and dealing with hunger, for instance. Additionally, many suggest eating behavior that can be classified as an eating ritual, or a way of eating food which lessens the stress of eating. Tips for how to conceal weight loss from concerned parties may also be found.
Additionally, pictures of thin celebrities are posted and are known as “thinspiration,” pictures of underweight or extremely thin body types which become goals. Most of these sites also contain message boards in which those with eating disorders can obtain “support” for their lifestyle. Many of these message board administrators claim that eating disorders, especially anorexia, are a lifestyle choice and can be lived out in a “healthy “way.
Ana and Mia are symbolic of the identity that some clients find in their eating disorder. Thinking of the presence of an eating disorder in this way causes issues because it is difficult to think of how one would recover from an identity or a lifestyle. These online communities offer support for the “stigma” against this chosen way of living and serve as roadblocks to recovery.
What can be done about the type of thinking put forth by these websites? First, we must accept that this type of information exists and is unlikely to go away due to the free-speech aspect of the Internet. Internet blocks can be installed if this type of Internet usage is suspected.
Second, what we can do is be aware of these sites and aware of the fact that anorexia or bulimia may be seen as a way or life or an identity by certain clients. Acknowledging this allows us to approach those we care about or care for in a way that is closer to how they approach the issue, which may foster communication.
Third, these sites tend to provide community and support for their visitors. However, this support is supporting a destructive lifestyle. All people seek community, but the type of community provided is important. Help the person to find a support group focused on recovery and which may help to separate the identity of Ana from their own identity. Foster the activities that they wish to do which are different from the things that Ana wishes to do such as going to college, freely spending time with friends or gaining back time that is not focused on food. Instead of asking “Who is Ana?” we can hope that they will begin to ask “Who am I?”
Fox, N., Ward, K., & O’Rourke, A. (2005). Pro-anorexia, weight-loss drugs and the internet: An ‘anti-recovery’ explanatory model of anorexia. Sociology of Health & Illness, 27(7), 944- 971. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9566.2005.00465.x
Gavin, J., Rodham, K., & Poyer, H. (2008). The presentation of “Pro-anorexia” in online group interactions. Qualitative Health Research, 18(3), 325-333. doi:10.1177/1049732307311640