Eating Disorders and the Internet

If you have a son or daughter with an eating disorder or suspect an eating disorder, you should be especially diligent about monitoring their Internet usage. There has been a recent surge of pro-eating disorder websites, known as Pro-Ana (short for anorexia) sites, catering to teens and the social and competitive aspects of eating disorders.
Multiple websites in this vein exist, such as Dying to be Thin and Pro Ana Sanctuary. Eating disorder patients meet by the thousands to discuss their problems and validate their desire to be thin. Their weight loss obsessions are often validated by their fellow members, who offer ways to control their weight, trick their doctor, and hide their eating disorders from their parents. Many of the sites promote anorexia as a lifestyle choice, not a disease.
According to the Stanford school of Medicine, children as young as ten are learning how to lose weight, purge, and more from Internet chat rooms and forums. Tips are shared on how to induce vomiting, how to control weight, and even where to buy weight loss drugs online. Information that teenagers would otherwise have a hard time learning is readily available online, and is as simple as a Google search.
When monitoring your teen’s Internet usage, you should know that chat rooms and forums are by far the most dangerous types of website for teens with eating disorders. Many are unmoderated, making them a virtual free for all of damaging knowledge. It’s extremely difficult to control the exchange of information on such sites, and most of it is presented by the teenager’s peers, making it that much more appealing. If your teen feels that they need the support of other suffers to overcome this disorder, find them a website that is pro-recovery only. These sites strongly discourage discussion of eating disorder tips, and ban users who promote this disease as an alternative lifestyle.
Teenagers who suffer from eating disorders are known for being extremely well informed about their condition. They often know the symptoms, physical effects, and more medical information that you’d imagine. Eating disorders are often about control, both physically and psychologically. Knowledge is power, so the more these teens know, the better they feel. This concept is only exacerbated by the Internet, as teens look for more and more information about how to lose weight, hide their symptoms, and control their figure. If your teen suffers from an eating disorder, chances are they will be extremely talented at hiding it, as well as hiding their online behavior.
If you find that your teen is visiting sites online that could be harmful to their health, you may have to drastically limit their Internet usage. Block offending sites from your computer using parental controls if necessary, and encourage your teenager to visit a therapist who specializes in eating disorders. The Internet is a tool, but in families who cope with eating disorders, it can also be a dangerous source of information.
Have a great day!