These websites, often created by people who have the disorder, share information and advice that they believe will help weight loss. They post graphic photographs of women deeply suffering from anorexia—hollow-cheeked and lifeless—meant to “inspire” readers to lose weight.
What these websites and images fail to show however, are the devastating, sometimes unseen, effects that anorexia nervosa has on the body. Throughout anorexia nervosa’s cycle of self-starvation, the body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally. Thus, the body is forced to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy, resulting in:
- Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure, which means the heart muscle is changing. The risk for heart failure rises as the heart rate and blood pressure levels sink lower and lower.
- Reduction of bone density (osteoporosis), which results in dry, brittle bones.
- Muscle loss and weakness.
- Severe dehydration, which can result in kidney failure.
- Fainting, fatigue, and overall weakness.
- Dry hair and skin; hair loss is common.
- Growth of a downy layer of hair—called lanugo—all over the body, including the face, in an effort to keep the body warm.
Members and moderators of these websites attempt to cultivate a sense of community, one based on superiority and pride through self-control. Pro-Ana websites are for those who are already anorexics, who want to be ‘triggered,’ and are looking for advice, tips, and support from fellow anorexics. Pro-Ana is a symbolized choice to not go into recovery…a choice that can often mean choosing between life and death.
Why Do Girls Visit Pro-Ana Websites?
Most of the girls who visit Pro-Ana websites have no desire to go into recovery or are not ready for recovery just yet. They feel that there are few other places where an anorexic can be open and honest about this fact without causing distress. Some girls feel persecuted and misunderstood everywhere else for not yet choosing to go into recovery. Whatever the reason, these websites are actively promoting and encouraging a disease that has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.
In fact, for females between 15 to 24 years old who suffer from anorexia nervosa, the mortality rate associated with the illness is twelve times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death. Studies have shown that there has been a rise in incidence of anorexia in young women, ages 15-19, in each decade since 1930. There is no doubt that the rise of technology in the information age of the Internet has complicated this issue as well.
At The Meadows Ranch, our trained intake professionals create a warm, safe environment where women can seek admission into our program without fear of judgement. We recognize how difficult and scary taking that initial first step towards recovery can be. That is why we are here to help make the process as easy and nurturing as possible.
Take Off Your ‘Pro-Ana’ Bracelets
When most people see someone wearing cause-related pieces of jewelry, they admire their efforts to raise awareness about a specific illness or to advocate for the health and well being of those who have been affected. We’ve all seen people wearing pink ribbons, a Livestrong bracelet, or the red AIDS band.
But for members of the Pro-Ana community, their adopted red-bracelet has a more dark connotation. In an interview with Buzzfeed, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association Lynn Grefe called sale of the red bracelets “appalling.”
“Is someone making pro-cancer or pro-heart disease necklaces? Replace the word ‘Ana’ with ‘cancer’ and you realize how absurd and how sick this is, to be encouraging people through jewelry to stay sick. I find it unforgivable,” she said. “I really encourage people to take a step back and ask if they want to promote a life threatening illness and promote death… The longer people are visiting those sites, the longer they’re not getting treatment.”
What Causes Anorexia Nervosa?
Eating disorders are a disease. However, unlike many other conditions such as leukemia, HIV, or kidney disease, there is no blood test available to test their presence in the human body.
Whether this disorder presents in a child, adolescent, or woman, dealing with anorexia is extremely difficult for the individual and her family. The idea of anyone literally starving themselves up to the point of death makes no sense to friends and family. Sometimes it doesn’t even make sense to the anorexic individual; she just knows that she is overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and fear when she eats.
While scientists and medical professionals still work to identify the causes of eating disorders, there is a consensus that some of these things play a part:
- Culture – Women world-wide are under constant pressure to fit a certain ideal of beauty. Vulnerable girls and women are bombarded by the media with imagery of altered images and unreal standards of what is the “perfect” body. It makes it hard for women to feel good about their bodies when they are too busy feeling the pressure of these unobtainable standards.
- Family – Those who have a mother or sister with anorexia have a propensity to develop the disorder. Parents who think looks are important, diet themselves, or criticize their children’s bodies are more likely to have a child with anorexia.
- Traumatic or Stressful Events – Traumatic events, life changes, or stressful events can trigger the onset of anorexia.
- Personality Traits – A female with anorexia may have a negative view of herself. She may hate the way she looks or feel hopeless. She often sets hard-to-reach goals for herself and focuses on being perfect.
- Biology – Genes, hormones, and chemicals in the brain may be factors in whether women develop anorexia.
Recover From Anorexia Nervosa
Some of the effects of being underweight (i.e. having a BMI below 17.5) contribute to maintaining the eating disorder: being preoccupied with food and eating, becoming socially withdrawn and losing interest in other things. Becoming indecisive, feeling a heightened need for routine and predictability, and feeling heightened sensations of fullness after eating, all help create vicious circles in which the only way to avoid mental or physical discomfort in the short term is by keeping on starving, but the only way to escape these problems in the long term is to regain weight. While sufferers of anorexia may be convinced that their present state reflects their personality, in fact their personality is masked by the effects of being underweight and their own personality will only emerge again if weight is regained.
Anorexics sometimes fear that they will stop being ‘special’, or stop knowing who they are, if they regain weight, but of course there is nothing special about being severely underweight. One’s true character remains hidden when the body is starved, to be rediscovered by starting to eat again and staying committed to the process of recovery.
The two facts of key importance to the sufferer of anorexia who is aware of the bleakness of the way in which she is living but cannot resolve to change are as follows:
- If you regain weight, not only the physical effects of your current state – being constantly cold and weak, sleeping and concentrating poorly, bad hair and skin – will disappear, but so will the ways in which you currently think and feel. Your body is starved, and your character and your thoughts are dominated by this starvation, and will cease to be so once you allow yourself to regain weight.
- There is no point in waiting for the magical moment at which you decide, once and for all, that you want to start eating more again, or to regain weight. Your starved state is making you unable to think flexibly enough to fully comprehend the possibility of eating or living differently, or even the possibility of wanting to think about and enjoy things other than food; it has hidden from you who you really are, and made you believe you are nothing but the anorexia; it is making the smallest piece of food feel like too much. For these reasons you will never truly want to recover, but you have to seize all your feelings of despair, desperation, hope, recklessness, and curiosity in order to make yourself plunge into that first day and first meal of recovery. As long as you keep yourself going, keep eating, through the first difficult weeks, it will get easier and easier.
Why Our Anorexia Treatment is Successful
The cornerstone of all The Meadows Ranch treatment is the complete focus on the individual. That’s why treatment duration is highly flexible and based on each patient’s unique needs. Some stay for one to two weeks, while those with a higher acuity remain in treatment for 30 days or longer.
Our age-appropriate program in Arizona offers care to girls as young as eight and ensures that each one receives treatment from professionals specializing in her specific age group.
Each patient has an individualized treatment plan implemented by a multi-disciplinary team of professionals. These include a psychiatric and primary care provider, a registered dietician, a licensed master’s or doctoral-level therapist, a psychologist, and registered nurses. Along with treating the patient’s eating disorder, the team also treats co-occurring issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or trauma. In addition to individual and group therapy, patients engage in experiential treatments such as art therapy, body image groups, equine therapy and challenge course therapies.
We Are Here To Help
We have treated anorexia for more than 20 years. We know recovery from an eating disorder is absolutely possible. It’s happening every day at The Meadows Ranch. Based on feedback from patients, families and professionals, the vast majority of our patients remain committed to a life of health, balance and purpose.
For additional information about the treatment of eating disorders, please call to speak to a Counselor at 866-390-5100 and we will contact you with the information you need.