Eating Disorders in the Internet Age

“Pro-ana” (pro-anorexia) and “pro-mia” (pro-bulimia) blogs and social media pages that promote eating disorders, are on the rise. They are extremely dangerous because they combine the pressure to have a perfect body with an individual’s desire to belong, all while promoting eating disorders as a lifestyle and not a mental illness.

This internet sensation is especially dangerous for people at a young age, who struggle to fit in or feel like they they aren’t part of a group. Many of the most toxic “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” accounts have an initiation process for their members. To avoid being kicked out, once they meet the requirements of the group (which often includes submitting a goal weight), they feel extra pressure to adhere to specific rules the admin has set out.  

Instead of urging readers toward recovery, these blogs and social media accounts offer tips for embracing their eating disorders including: how to best count calories, how to avoid and cope with hair loss, how to conceal the disease, and how to avoid the “temptation” of food. Members of these sites compare their daily caloric intake, and show each other how much weight they’ve lost with personal progress photos of bodies and scales.

Images of “thinspiration” and “thigh gaps” bombard members of these groups with what they believe they should strive for.

Social media has made it even harder to get away from this kind of “inspiration” for people with eating disorders. Unrealistic standards and the picture perfect life presented by famous bloggers, celebrities, and social media stars are merely a glimpse into edited and perfectly chosen aspects of these lives. Because people are constantly bombarded with images and messages that tell them to be thin, pressure is frequent and more individuals fall into negative spirals that lead to eating disorders.

If you think a loved one may be dealing with an eating disorder, there are a few things you can look out for. The most obvious sign is losing a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. Additionally, small hints may be when the person is not eating in front of others, is claiming something has too many calories, or is constantly declining food.

While there are programs available to help individuals get back on track to a healthy lifestyle, the biggest thing that people need is positive encouragement and support from friends and family. An important first step is to disable any “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” accounts that person follows as soon as possible, then help them get the support they need.

Jennifer Antunes, a Digital Alberta Events Committee member, who knew a friend dealing with anorexia, says that anorexia is a physical aspect of someone suffering mentally. “If you know someone who you think might be dealing with this, be really compassionate. Try to find out what is causing it.” Eating disorders are not only about looks and wanting to be thin, they are complex and difficult to navigate, so use your best judgement when helping a loved one.

This post is in support of World Eating Disorders Action Day.

Robyn Welsh
Robyn Welsh
Robyn is studying Communications/Journalism at Mount Royal University in Calgary. She is a co-founder and editor for Vamp Media (www.vamp.media), and has written for the Calgary Journal, The Reflector, Beatroute Magazine, as well as several others.