Known as Pro Ana (ProAnorexia) and Pro Mia (Pro Bulimia) these sites offer encouragement under the guise of support and understanding. The majority of sites insist they do not promote eating disorders but offer support for those who choose ‘the lifestyle.’ These sites insist they are part of an ‘evolution.’ People have the right to engage in eating disordered behavior. Some common mottos:
- Skip Dinner…Be Thinner
- Your Stomach Isn’t Growling…It’s Applauding
- Of course it’s hard. If it was easy then everybody would do it.
Many sites even provide statistics and facts related to eating disorders. What they fail to report is that each year approximately 1000 females die from complications related to Anorexia. When surveyed, one study found that the majority of females feared being fat more than they feared dying. Keeping in the spirit of these sites, pro cutting sites have also started to crop up. Their propaganda and misinformation present these disordered behaviors as if they are a choice. Not surprisingly, they fail to focus on the short and long term health risks associated with the symptoms and behaviors.
In a country in which it is estimated that 1 in 4 girls may be engaging in eating disordered behaviors, these sites are every parent’s nightmare. It is also important to be aware that individuals suffering from an eating disorder are at greater risk for suicide. The longer the struggle, the higher the risk becomes.
The question then becomes, what can a parent do ?
1.) Monitor what sites your teen is visiting on the internet. Invest in parental controls and site tracking software.
2.) If you have concerns that your teen may be visiting these sites, talk with her about them. Ask for her view on the messages she believes the sites are sending. Encourage her to use perspective taking by asking her what she would say if her sister or friend was visiting the sites.
3.) Find ways to educate yourself and your teen about eating disorders and the associated risks. By doing this together you affirm your teen’s belief that you do not have all the answers. At the same time you demonstrate that you are trying learn. This will validate your teen’s struggle and empower her to address the problems.
4.) Find other ways to secure support for her. Seek professional help if she isn’t already seeing a counselor. Help her find healthy support on and offline.
5.) Be aware that there has been a recent increase in the number of males engaging in eating disordered behavior. Make sure you are monitoring all your teens.
Remember, knowledge is power. With a little ingenuity and a lot of support, you can find productive ways to help your teen through the difficult struggle experienced by eating disordered teens.