Eating disorders are a serious illness and while some are fighting to win the battle of anorexia or bulimia, others use the Internet to encourage these dangerous conditions.
Pro-anorexia online communities can be found on all types of social media platforms. They exist across the Internet from specific websites, to Facebook accounts and Instagram pages.
One example of a site that could be considered pro-anorexia is a support forum called House of Thin, which states “The main goal and purpose of the House of Thin is to provide a safe, stable online home for those who are eating disordered.”
The National Eating Disorder Information Centre said it is worried about the growth of these online communities, which promote eating disorders as a lifestyle choice rather than potentially deadly illness.
The sites are tailored toward people who already suffer from an eating disorder, said Lauren Drouillard, program manager at Sheena’s Place, a medical centre for individuals struggling with an eating disorder.
She said the websites serve to give specific tips and strategies for maintaining an eating disorder.
Examples of harmful tips provided on these websites include substituting gum or ice cubes for food when feeling hungry, wearing a rubber band around the wrist and snapping it when feeling the urge to eat.
Humber counsellor Liz Sokol said eating disorders are an illness involving distorted body images and these online communities are promoting the distorted images as an ideal.
“What it’s encouraging people not to do is listen to their body,” she said. So if the body is hungry, tired or sick, it’s encouraging people to really disconnect from the body.
The Information Centre said the fear is that these online communities are making eating disorders look glamorous.
Teenagers and young adults are constantly bombarded with body image-related posts on social media, said Sarah Sterlin-Altman, an intern at Sheena’s Place. She said the heavy emphasis on healthy eating and excessive exercising is hard to ignore.
Sterlin-Altman said there is no way to stop people from posting these messages or to regulate the information that’s being posted on social media.
“The most realistic solution for teenagers who are exposed to pro-anorexia things on social media is to get educated about the dangers of eating disorders,” she said.
Another intern from Sheena’s Place, Jackie Bank, said people should know not to trust and believe everything they read or see online.
“There have been debates about trying to get rid of these sites but they keep popping up
with new hashtags or urls,” said Bank.
“Unfortunately I do not think much can be done about these online communities, but we can teach people to look at messages critically and respond to them in adaptive ways,” said Drouillard.
Sokol recommends that students get as much exposure and support from people who promote healthy lifestyles.
“The more you put yourself in an environment and around people who support you being healthy, the more helpful it’s going to be,” said Sokol.
Visit http://www.nedic.ca to learn more about eating disorders.