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"Pro Ana" blogs, chats and "pro-anorexia" websites: a new danger

Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia are acronyms that stand for pro-Anorexia andpro-Bulimia virtual communities that are dangerously spreading online. These are groups run by people, in most cases, without any specific professionalism who feed the myth of the benefits given by following the path of anorexia and bulimia as lifestyles. These eating disorders are exalted through the provision of dietary and psychological advice and information by self-styled coaches who, I must stress, often have no specialized training in the subject, and push young people toward extreme thinness, extolling the benefits of this or that diet in order to gain recognition and social prestige.

In November 2017, the closure, perhaps the first ever, of a "pro ana" blog, i.e., a website, that taught how to become anorexic, and the denunciation for incitement to suicide of its administrator had made headlines. That event had brought to the forefront and with renewed vigor the phenomenon of "pro ana," "pro-anorexia" websites and blogs.

These communities are made up of people, often young people, who share the goal of losing weight quickly, of not seeing their thighs touching, of taking in a maximum of 500 calories a day, of no longer feeling hungry, ... and they travel unchecked proliferating on Whatsapp, Telegram, Twitter, the Internet, Kik, Messenger, ....

This phenomenon is worryingly increasing, and clinical practice confronts us with the fact that between the ages of 12 and 25, anorexia is the leading cause of death in the female population. More women die from anorexia than from traffic accidents.


What is happening? How come this proliferation of pro-Ana groups?

In the "anorexic omnipotence" stage, the subject does not perceive himself to be ill; rather, he experiences a state of bliss with the symptom. Some of these people, through the new possibilities that technology makes available to us, begin to extol the supposed wonders of this life choice, this cause to which they vow. Girls, but also boys, take pictures of themselves in the mirror, post pictures of their meals, tell how it is possible to survive on a glass of water, a salad leaf and an apple a day. We are faced with people who flaunt great confidence and omnipotence, but who hide great fragility and need help, both those who administer the blog, the social page, the chat, and those who frequent it.

A pathological logic in "pro Ana" blogs

The quest for thinness becomes an ideal, there is no weight limit to which the subject wants to reach, "one more" "some more" "some more" and one is sucked into an endless vortex. One aims for an absolute that has no adherence to reality, for an ideal that can be achieved only with a graphics program in a virtual world, not with a real body. Abstention from food, counteracting the sense of hunger, and strenuous resistance are exalted, and with equal stubbornness all those who try to interrupt this circuit (family members, friends) are driven away. Any moment of failure is violently condemned, the subject is blamed as weak, inept at pursuing the anorexic cause, treated as a traitor.

Blogs, social profiles, chats and forums

Blogs and social profiles made by a person seem to configure themselves as the expression of that subject's private world where the cult ofanorexia, of the thin body, of the perfect image are exalted in the pathological logic that characterizes this symptom, that is, the manifestation of anorexic omnipotence.

In the forums there is no real single manager, but several subjects discuss a topic together. Today they talk about "how to lose weight faster," tomorrow about "how not to let parents notice what is happening," the day after tomorrow "what diuretics are the most effective," and so on. All this leads to the self-feeding of distorted and sick ideas.

Reading between the lines

Looking at this phenomenon between the lines, it is possible to see that there is also a paradoxical form of asking for help, for attention, for dialogue, for a relationship, a space where one can also share one's pain and fatigue in the various interactions between these subjects. We are faced with subjects who need help and to stop and question what is happening to them.

How to intervene to better manage the "pro Ana" phenomenon?

This question is not easy to answer. Repressive interventions may have utility against those who want to speculate on this quest for thinness. Frequently, however, the individuals who open these "pro Ana" sites are people, themselves, in need of help and care. They are people who put their own lives, as well as the lives of others, in danger.

Both those who administer the blog or social page, and those who frequent it, are hiding great fragility and need help.

But how to understand what is the line between pathology and "normality"? What is the difference between the website of a personal trainer who urges his clients to take certain supplements or follow a certain and rigid dietary pattern he proposes to change their muscle mass, a nutritionist who proposes a dietary regimen that is then taken to excess by the subject, a young girl of a young age who describes how she manages not to gain weight and survive on only one meager meal a day? Excess can lead to the development and perpetuation of a disease, but how to spot the line?

How to do prevention from "pro Ana" sites, blogs and chats?

Prevention starts from the bottom up. We can all do a part of prevention, each according to our expertise: parenting, educational, clinical. A parent who offers himself to his child as a speaking space is, in his own way, doing prevention. An educator who helps kids learn healthier use of social networks is doing prevention. A clinician who speaks about eating disorders at a conference is doing prevention as well as information.

Develop critical thinking skills

It is critical that our teens learn to always critically place themselves in front of what they read, whatever the source, from the anonymous website to the large scientific publication. Nothing replaces one's own judgment and confrontation with others. We should not be afraid to ask for help, to say we don't know, to talk to trusted adults or professionals about something that seems strange to us or, at any rate, worthy of attention. No one can think that this phenomenon of pro-ana websites, chats and blogs does not concern them. An issue of this magnitude, even if it does not touch us directly, touches us as human beings.

Seek help from an adult, a psychologist, a teacher

Chats and "pro Ana" communities can get you into trouble and cause you to develop an eating disorder, but it is possible to move away from it and heal. You can face and go through this issue by talking to a trained specialist who will help you by standing by your side without judging you.

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