Discerning Online Information
Pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia websites have proliferated on the Internet since the late 1990s. They have been joined more recently by pro-eating disorder blogs, support groups and chat rooms on Facebook, Myspace, Xanga, and LiveJournal. They promote unhealthy weight loss and eating disordered behavior as a lifestyle choice and organized social movement, rather than an illness. These sites have become a forum for sharing dieting tips and techniques, tricks to deceive family members and doctors about weight loss and a means to get support or “thinspiration” to continue living with an eating disorder. These sites have prompted group fasts and weight loss competitions, enticed young viewers to experiment with restrictive dieting, purging, and other disordered eating behaviors, and have deceived many young women by glamorizing and rationalizing these behaviors. The once isolated and secretive life of the anorexic has changed in the age of the Internet. One can be anonymous, while still getting support and encouragement from on-line friends who may never see their skeletal body, broken relationships, loss of functioning or true inner pain.
Luckily, pro-recovery websites have also flourished on the Internet. These sites usually contain community rules including a ban on pro-ed content and are regularly policed for inappropriate posts (pictures, dialogue, etc.). These sites typically have links to positive affirmations, mindfulness websites, and treatment resources. Blogs and postings on pro-recovery sites are focused on hope, treatment progress and inspiration for recovery.
Therapists and parents alike should be educated about the content and location of pro-eating disorder as well as pro-recovery websites, social networking groups, and blogs. For a partial list of pro-recovery websites for students and families, please see the following list below:
Family Support Websites
Mary Ellen J. Crowley, PhD
Assistant Psychologist, McLean Hospital
Instructor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School