I was recently asked to talk a little bit about the term ‘pro-ana’; which is something I don’t really discuss in any details during my workshops. ‘Pro-ana’ is short for pro-anorexia and generally refers to online communities which promote eating disorder type behaviours. These websites are likely to be strewn with pictures of extremely underweight individuals, often deny that Eating Disorders are a mental illness, encourage unhealthy weight loss and are quite frankly extremely dangerous.
Given that struggling with an Eating Disorder is close to a living hell you might be wondering why people would want to use such website. However, it is quite common that individuals take to the internet to find people experiencing similar things to them – and many people that fall upon these ‘pro-ana’ sites are simply looking for others who might understand what they are experiencing. While these website certainly offer that sense of none-judgment, they are highly unlikely to promote accessing help, support and recovery. Instead the individual might learn ways to hide their illness. It is a terrifying reality; highly vulnerable people seeking support and instead being further enticed to become sicker with what is known as the mental health illness with the highest mortality rate.
These websites are often closed down by the powers that govern the internet, but as you might expect as quickly as one is closed down another one pops up. The only way I can see to help people avoid such traps is that there is more positive recovery focused support also easily accessible online. This is something which we are seeing an increase of; there are now recovery based websites, charities such as b-eat have sites giving information and support, and there is an increase in counselling services being offered online. In fact this was largely my motivation for offering counselling online (more information available here).
If you’ve got more questions about ‘pro-ana’, or indeed anything else, please post them in the comments section or email me at email@example.com