The Troubling Online Truth About Eating Disorders: Pro-ana, Pro-mia, Pro-ED

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, as many as 20 million American women and 10 million American men suffer from eating disorders. Anecdotal evidence points to the fact that many sufferers of eating disorders (ED) are teens, and as a parent you may have had the misfortune of seeing some troubling signs in your family.

eating-disorderI was researching the topic this week and was surprised and disappointed to see the number of pro-ED resources available online, from blogs and websites to social media accounts. Teens with an eating disorder are turning to each other online to get support – not support to seek treatment or get self help solutions, but rather support in continuing to suffer rather than getting help. Online, there are plenty of places to get that support.

If you suspect that your teen may be suffering from an ED, a good place to start if he or she is not forthcoming is checking her online history and profiles. If you see any of the following terms, either by themselves or in #hashtag form, you may have an issue on your hands that requires a serious response:

  • Pro-ana (short for pro-anorexia)
  • Pro-mia (pro-bulimia)
  • Pro-ED
  • Thinspiration, Thinspo or Thynspo
  • Thigh gap

Some social networks do a good job policing pro-ED content, as it is contrary to most sites’ policy against promoting self-harm. Facebook probably does the best job. Instagram banned the #thynspo hashtag earlier this year, or at least blocked it from being searchable, but then it came back. A search today reveals that it may be blocked again. Pinterest and Tumblr may claim to be against pro-ED content, but there are thousands of pro-ED posts and hashtagged items on those networks.

For more resources about eating disorder research, support and treatment, please visit the fine folks at the National Eating Disorders Association (@NEDAstaff on Twitter) or National Institute of Mental Health (@NIMHgov).


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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