The term “pro-ana” is short for “pro-anorexia.” According to the New York Times Magazine “pro-ana refers to the promotion of behaviors related to the eating disorder anorexia nervosa.” Anorexia nervosa, often referred to as anorexia, is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic mental health illness under the Disorder Class: Feeding and Eating Disorders. The Mayo Clinic defines anorexia as “an eating disorder characterized by an abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight.” Individuals that struggle with anorexia engage in a cycle of self-starvation that often results in malnutrition including a lack of essential minerals and nutrients. Though anorexia can manifest at any age, research suggests it most commonly develops during adolescence.
Rather than accurately recognizing anorexia as a serious medical condition, the pro-ana community views anorexia as a lifestyle. Healthline explains that “since the late 1990s, people living with anorexia turned to the Internet for solace and support.” To remain connected with other people suffering from anorexia, they started blogs, developed websites, produced YouTube channels, and created forums. However, beneath this network of support lies an alarming subculture that dangerously glorifies and exacerbates eating disorders.
The content propagated in the pro-ana community is generally created by people who have eating disorders and lack medical knowledge and expertise. They hold a steadfast belief that extreme thinness is a positive choice and have recently come to rely on hashtags and keywords (e.g., “thinspo,” “thinspiration,” “thigh gap,” “ribcage,” etc.) to draw in supporters. The pro-ana community can be harmful to anyone struggling with anorexia as, its content often intentionally provides triggers that can worsen the symptoms of the disorder. Some examples of triggering content may include:
- Providing tips on how to unhealthily lose weight
- Encouraging negative body image
- Promoting images of extreme thinness
- Encouraging people that do not have an eating disorder to develop one
- Tips to avoid getting help
Individuals suffering from anorexia are vulnerable and easily drawn to the pro-ana community. Those struggling with anorexia turn to the pro-ana community because it reaffirms disordered eating behaviors and mindsets and perpetuates unhealthy habits that are familiar and comforting. When an individual with anorexia becomes severely malnourished, every organ in his or her body can suffer irreparable damage, and without proper treatment anorexia can lead to life-threatening consequences.
Further Information and Support
Navigating the challenges that arise from living with mental illness, struggling with substance abuse, and/ or addiction can not only be all consuming but are often impossible to effectively handle without proper support. If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one regarding mental illness, substance abuse, and/ or addiction we recommend reaching out for help as soon as possible. Bear in mind that you do not have to be on this journey alone. At Upwell Advisors, we offer unique, customized concierge therapeutic services to provide our clients with unparalleled support throughout every step of the recovery process.
If left untreated, substance abuse, addiction, and/ or mental illness can result in long lasting and potentially life-threatening consequences. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to leading happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. Please do not hesitate to reach out for guidance. We welcome the opportunity to discuss how we might best be able to help you or your loved one in the recovery process.