Earlier this week, I wrote about the pro-ana websites, body-negativity, and what the internet is doing to both promote and try to end eating disorders. But there was one voice that was distinctively missing: that of someone who is, and has been, a regular user of pro-eating disorder, non-recovery-centered websites and forums for years.
“Rachel,” who we’re keeping anonymous to protect her privacy, has struggled with an eating disorder for over a decade. And she says she’s found comfort and community on multiple websites and forums in that time, often frequenting pro-recovery and pro-eating disorder sites. But now, she notes, pro-ana sites aren’t what they used to be–in fact, Rachel says that many are beginning to move away from the glorification of eating disorders, and toward a more positive mindset.
Some of the content may be triggering, and we definitely don’t support pro-ana websites, but we thought it was important that all sides to this story were told. If you’re looking for support, there is help available. Check out these great online resources, like Proud2BeMe.
Below is Rachel’s story:
I’ve been part of the online ED community almost since my eating disorder started in 2001. This also coincided with the proliferation of “pro-ana” websites and forums. ED forums at this time seemed to be rather polarized: the “recovery-oriented” sites decried the evils of the pro-anorexia websites, and the pro-anorexia websites decried the intolerance of the strictly recovery sites. I played both sides of the fence, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. What all of these sites had in common was a connection to people who knew what I was going through.
One common theme among people with eating disorders is shame. There are so many thoughts and behaviors that accompany an ED that we feel we have to hide, and sometimes for good reason (in my case, I had to pretend to be recovered to avoid being kicked out of college). Only online could I tell others about the rampaging voice in my head telling me I was fat; only online could I share my guilt about stealing a roommate’s food; only online could I admit to rummaging through trash bins to find scraps of food I wouldn’t otherwise allow myself; only online could I share the horror of purging in the bathroom and forgetting to clean before my roommates returned.
Over the past decade, many formerly “pro-ana” forums have become more moderate in their approach with a strong bent toward recovery. During these same years, my own ED has gradually improved (although never dissipated completely). I have remained somewhat active in the online ED community and recently took ownership of a forum that has evolved beyond its “pro-ana” roots to become a supportive community for people with EDs and other mental health issues.
Of course there is no way to know precisely how participation in the online ED community impacted my own disorder or how my illness would have otherwise progressed, but I believe the net effect was positive. Online support isn’t a substitute for real-life friendships, but it helped me to avoid complete isolation and the feeling of being alone in my struggles.
I’m sure I picked up ED-fueling “tips,” especially in the first couple of years, but isolation would have certainly triggered me toward possibly worse self-destructive actions. Online forums have also provided me with an opportunity to look beyond my own problems in order to reach out and help others.
Again, if you’re in crisis, or just need support, there are websites that can help.
Image: Edyta Pawlowska via Shutterstock