By Dana Mathews
Collegian Staff Writer
The growing popularity of online pro-anorexia communities has gotten the attention of health experts, who say these communities are detrimental to eating disorder patients and impede their recovery process.
"In these communities, students receive positive attention for their weight loss, which further reinforces their interest in losing even more weight," said Mary Anne Knapp, a clinical social worker for the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).
Experts are concerned with the message the sites convey -- that being thin is fine, no matter what the cost. Although anorexia is a deadly disorder, the pro-anorexia community says that weighing 80-something pounds is beautiful and being in constant inner turmoil is fine as long as you are skinny.
Despite government efforts to shut down pro-anorexia Web sites, the "pro-ana" community still exists, and anyone can become a member by creating an account and login name. The popular Web site www.LiveJournal.com hosts about 100 "pro-ana" groups for its members. Even as a non-member, one can access many of the groups and view what members have said with the click of a mouse.
One LiveJournal pro-anorexia group has 245,212 active members and is no longer taking any more members due to the influx of interest. Members of the community have login names such as "I heart ana," "anorexic soul," "wasting away" and "thin as sin."
At the front page of this community, there is a bolded and underlined disclaimer that asks people not to post any messages that are aggressively against the pro-anorexic/bulimic movement. "This is not a community for debate on the topic of getting better," it says.
Local health experts disagree with the message these Web sites send.
"The online pro-anorexia community is counterproductive and can encourage further eating-disorder thinking," Knapp said.
In the "pro-ana" community, people swap starvation diet tips, participate in group fasts and share stories of how emaciated they've become. For example, one post said, "I haven't eaten anything or drank anything except water in 141 hours. I feel light and ethereal, like I'm floating. Anyone else experience that?"
Knapp said that the dieting behavior can start to feel like a 24-hour obsession that can affect other aspects of one's life.
One community member had just had a baby and wrote of how she is fasting to become thin again. "I'm on the treadmill four hours a day not eating. I don't want my daughter to grow up and see that behavior," the post said.
Erika (freshman-international politics), whose last name is being withheld because she is being treated for an eating disorder, used to visit the pro-anorexia Web sites, which she said she took seriously for "inspiration" to be thin.
"I remember looking at pictures and reading posts to get myself motivated to lose weight," she said. "Now I would never go to these sites, even though I'm still struggling with my eating disorder. The sites are absolutely terrible; someone needs to do something to help these people."
Knapp said that Web sites can delay proper recovery necessary to combat an eating disorder.
"For people struggling with an eating disorder, it's important to educate them on options," she said. "They need to consider getting treatment."
Knapp said that professional help is the first step to recovery, and there are Web sites that can help people get on the right track. For example, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org offers awareness and prevention efforts to help people with their eating disorder, she said.
Knapp said that treatment for students is available at CAPS through group and individual sessions.
LiveJournal.com also hosts healthy communities such as "eating disorders," and "E.D. recovery" that help people recover with a supportive community.
xposted to survivingonair
original link: http://www.collegian.psu.edu/archive/2005/04/04-26-05tdc/04-26-05dscihealth-04.asp