Pro-Ana, Pro-Mia Sites Promote Dangerous Weight Control Methods

By Staff Writer

In November 2009, the model Kate Moss made headlines – and prompted considerable negative reaction – when she told the magazine Women’s Wear Daily that one of the mottos she lives by is “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

Critics pounced on Moss’s use of the quote, noting that the saying is popular among sufferers of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Moss’s public declaration of her belief in this saying, they said, was likely to be taken as “motivation” by those who believe that self-starvation is the key to beauty, acceptance and success.

In addition to articles about the impact of eating disorders and the complicity of the fashion industry in promoting unhealthy body image, the response to Moss’s comments also included references to an online subculture that actually encourages people (primarily young girls) to pursue unhealthy eating habits.

“’If you read any of the proanorexia websites they go crazy for quotes like these,” model Katie Green, the founder of the Say No to Size Zero campaign, said in a Nov. 19, 2009 article on the website of the British newspaper Daily Mail.

Pro-Ana, Pro-Mia

Commonly referred to as “pro-ana” (for sites that promote anorexia nervosa and related behaviors) and “pro-mia” (for those dedicated to the binge-and-purge behaviors that characterize the eating disorder bulimia nervosa), these sites existed long before Ms. Moss made headlines last year – and their impact continues to be felt more than eight months after the media maelstrom she created.

In a July 20 article on the website cbstv11.com, medical news reporter Tracy Kornet addressed the continuing scourge of websites that promote disordered eating and other dangerous weight control behaviors:

A recent study by Johns Hopkins University found 180 of the “Pro-Ana” websites are currently active. We found posts on some like one that said “I want to be so skinny that I rot from view.” Another said “feel your hunger…you’ll get a sense of euphoria eventually.” …

Dr. Stephanie Setliff, a psychiatrist with U.T. Southwester & Children’s Medical Center, treats patients suffering from eating disorders. She says she sees the damage from these websites on a daily basis.

“This is a very serious illness, and it will kill you,” she said. “A lot of the sayings you hear are things like ‘Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.’”

The Power of Positive Intervention

Though pro-ana and pro-mia websites offer “advice” that is clearly detrimental to the health of individuals with eating disorders, they appear to offer two features that are attractive to almost all humans: acceptance and a sense of community.

The good news is that effective residential treatment programs for eating disorders and co-occurring diagnoses offer these same features, while also helping clients develop the healthy self-esteem and realistic body image that will allow them to appreciate their true strengths and resist pressures to denigrate or harm themselves.