What Are Pro-Ana Websites?

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The terms pro-ana or pro-anorexia refer to online content that promotes the harmful behavior and mindset that forms part of anorexia nervosa. The websites and social media posts provide information that implies taking extreme measures to control body weight are lifestyle choices rather than symptoms of an illness. These sites are dangerous because they may strengthen the disease of anorexia, as people involved in the discussions often praise weight loss and discourage healthy body shape and size.

girl looking at pro-ana website

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If you or a loved one are coping with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline for support at 1-800-931-2237. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

What Is Pro-Ana?

Pro-ana sites are often created by people who have eating disorders and who don’t have medical expertise. Instead, they view their extreme thinness as a positive and inspirational lifestyle choice. 

The internet is often a place where people living with anorexia can connect with fellow sufferers. For many, these online groups provide a space to recover, but there is a darker subculture that actively encourages knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors to achieve low body weights.

The pro-anorexia sites offer "thinspiration" in the form of photographs, memes, and blog posts to encourage people to starve themselves and drop down to unhealthy weights.

Why Is It Harmful?

Pro-ana content is dangerous to those who may be vulnerable to developing an eating disorder or are already ill. Vulnerable users may adopt behaviors not only when they admire online peers but also if they are repeatedly exposed to images of people with life-threatening and dangerously low body weights.

The sites tell people that they are carrying out behavior that harms them by choice, rather than because they are ill. All of this can lead to the illness becoming more ingrained and harder to break away from.

Pro-ana sites can make people:

  • Feel more negative about themselves
  • Stir up damaging feelings of competitiveness
  • Push people into setting unhealthy goals and rules

A study of female undergraduates found that after visiting a pro-anorexia site the participants:

  • Perceived themselves as heavier
  • Reported a greater likelihood of exercising and thinking about their weight in the near future
  • Engaged in more image comparison.

One of the dangers of pro-ana material is how easily accessible it is, particularly in the age of social media.

According to one study, published in the American Journal for Public Health, about 83% of the websites analyzed for pro-ana material provided overt suggestions on eating disordered behaviors, including ways to:

  • Engage in extreme exercise
  • Go on a several-day fast
  • Purge after meals
  • Hide rapid weight loss from concerned family and friends

Where to Get Help

Your primary care doctor can be an important initial resource for getting help with anorexia. They can help evaluate your symptoms and eating patterns, and give advice on the support available in your area.

While pro-ana content is widespread online, pro-recovery content is in the majority. Virtual support groups affiliated with national organizations are safer spaces as they are moderated for pro-ana content. It may take time to find a support group that feels right, so don't feel disheartened if you don't like the first group you attend.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is a nonprofit organization that works to support those that have an eating disorder. Their website contains a wealth of information about eating disorders, treatment, and support. They also have compiled free and low-cost support options in the form of:

  • Forums: The NEDA forums are available for individuals and loved ones looking to connect in a safe space about the eating disorder recovery process.
  • Support groups: NEDA's support group finder can help locate in-person groups and online options.

The Sooner You Get Help, the Better

If you or someone you care about is exhibiting signs of anorexia nervosa, it's vital that you reach out for help. The chance for recovery increases the earlier an eating disorder is detected.

It’s usually very difficult for people with eating disorders to get better on their own, so it’s important to seek professional help and support as soon as possible.

A Word From Verywell 

Pro-ana content is incredibly dangerous and should be avoided at all costs if you are struggling with anorexia. Thankfully, the internet has a wealth of non-triggering, supportive material to help you in your recovery.

Please note that these online resources do not replace professional treatment and should be used as additional support options to supplement recovery or maintenance.

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