Sometimes when you’re struggling with mental health issues, it’s easy to find support online but sometimes the communities you find online may be doing a lot more harm than good. This can apply to any mental illness, but most commonly within the eating disorder community. The pro-ED community is a community that encourages disordered behaviour such as restricting yourself to almost impossible amounts of calories, usually below 200 a day, not eating for days and competing to see who is “the weakest with no will power” or posting pictures of themselves on social media and getting people to say things to make them not want to eat, amongst other things. Many people with eating disorders stumble across it without even realising at some point during their lowest points, and once you get into the community, it can be really hard to leave, and that’s what I found out before I started recovery last year.
This is my story.
When I was 13, I stumbled across a page on Tumblr where there were pictures of extremely skinny girls, most probably days away from death, yet for some reason I couldn’t stop looking. I continued to scroll through that page for hours, looking at these pictures, which all had extremely triggering captions, mostly saying that the only way to lose weight is through heavy restricting and basically depriving your body of what it needs to survive. For the next few days, I kept returning to that page and pages like it, it was almost like an addiction, and after a while I started to think like these people and started taking their advice on how to lose weight even though I knew how damaging it was, I found myself becoming harsher on myself than ever and that’s when I made my first pro-ana account on Tumblr and Instagram.
Almost daily I had messages from others in the community asking me to make fun of them and make them feel bad about their body so that they could get the motivation to not eat/stop eating, and, of course, I did, I didn’t realise at the time how bad it was, I thought this was normal for people my age to do because so many people had done it for me and people were asking me to do the same for them. Me and the girls I classed as my friends at the time used to spend hours writing what is commonly known as meanspo and sending it to each other whenever one of us ate or forgot to do our daily workouts.
This is when I started to realise that what I was doing was wrong and I couldn’t go on like this anymore, however when I told one of the people that I was friends with on Instagram, they told me that I was weak and that I should stay in the community and that I was better off staying than trying to find a way out and recover, and so I did.
This carried on for years until eventually my Instagram account was banned and I realised that what I was doing was wrong and I was not only putting myself at risk but I was also hurting others in the process. My pro-ana behaviour ended up with me being referred to impatient and diagnosed with atypical anorexia, I am in no way fully recovered but I’m constantly working on it.
“My first experience with pro-ana was when I researched on how to lose weight. It came up on the search results and I read into it more and it felt like at first that people were understanding my thoughts about losing weight. But what I didn't realise was that those thoughts were caused by the bullying I was having in my old high school. That's when I moved to a new school but then I carried on looking into pro-ana.
This was when a few years later I was being brainwashed into thinking this was my life now I let that thing take over me and my body! I was losing weight dramatically but then that's when my parents found out what was happening and then I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.
The mental health team kept a close eye on me and they looked through my research and found I was on pro-ana sites. They banned me from looking online.
Till this day I still suffer badly with mental health but now being bulimic due to finding out other ways of losing weight etc but not realising how damaging it is to my body.” -Mel, another TWE member.
My advice to anyone who does come across these sorts of pages online is to report and block them, do not interact with them, do not read their posts. What starts off as curiosity can turn into something a lot more serious and seriously damage your mental health and self esteem.
If you yourself feel like you’re pro-ana, please, deactivate your account and get help. You are worth it and you deserve to get better, no matter what. This community takes so many lives each year. You may feel like they understand you and your struggles but they are encouraging unhealthy and toxic behaviour.
Remember you are loved and deserve to be happy and recover, no matter what anyone says.
Teenagers With Experience is an organisation created to provide teenagers with a platform to share and help others from their own experiences while also educating others on different topics. We aim to provide a safe space to all teenagers around the world and support others. You can contact us via email, social media or our contact form found on our home page.