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Anorexics work to hide disorder
Some Web sites offer sufferers help in deception.

By Abby Rivin, 16 Allison Gardner, 15 Paige Thomas, 15 and Cakey Worthington, 13

Anorexic girls have to work hard to hide their secret, and now they have a new tool.

Many Web sites give advice on how to maintain an anorexic lifestyle and deceive family members, friends and doctors. They also offer tips on hiding weight loss and easing hunger pangs.

A quick search finds hundreds of Web sites that label themselves pro-anorexia, or pro-ana, and pro-bulimia, or pro-mia. Morgan Menzie, an author who wrote about her struggles with anorexia as a teen, believes they are dangerous.

"I just think that there could be nothing worse than this kind of interaction. I mean, it's a support group for people who are destroying themselves. It's just further encouragement to hurt yourself, to destroy your body."

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, up to 10 percent of all females experience an eating disorder at some time in their lives, and the condition is becoming more prevalent among boys, too. Anorexia nervosa is a disorder in which the patient has very low food intake and refuses to keep a healthy weight due to a distorted body image. Bulimia nervosa refers to a pattern of binge eating and purging, either by vomiting or by using diuretics and laxatives.

Both disorders cause a multitude of physical and emotional problems that, in some cases, lead to death. According to Dr. Ann Lagges at Riley Hospital's Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Services, eating disorders can be triggered by many things, such as low self-esteem, the impossibly-thin standard of today's society, problems with family or a lack of control in one's life.

Eating disorders often develop in teenage girls as their bodies are maturing. Insecure about the physical changes, some girls develop an unrealistic body image based on stick-thin models and actresses, which leads them to starve themselves.

Desire for control also drives some to anorexia or bulimia.

"Their thought is typically 'I'm getting so much control,' but in reality they're losing control of their life -- the food, the eating, the weight is taking over," Lagges said.

Menzie's semi-autobiographical book, "Diary of an Anorexic Girl," is based on her four-year battle with the condition, starting in eighth grade. Now 22 and a student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Menzie said recently that some teens are so desperate for control that they believe the only thing they can control is their weight.

"Every kid feels out of control at that point in their lives. Things are changing, and you don't really know what's gonna happen next for you."

People struggling with anorexia or bulimia develop an unrealistic view of how much food it takes to gain weight, Lagges says.

"You may hear a person with an eating disorder say something like, 'If I eat one piece of cake, I'm gonna gain three pounds.' Or if they do allow themselves a little bit more food one day, the next day they will be convinced that everybody else can see it, that that's made a visible difference."

Many anorexics also exercise excessively to burn the calories in the little food they eat. "I've had patients who have done things like when their mom tells them, 'OK, take your laundry upstairs,' what they'll do is take it one piece at a time," Lagges said.

Because parents, doctors and counselors want to change these weight-obsessed habits, those with eating disorders seek support from other sources. A quick Google search yields numerous pro-ana and pro-mia Web sites, filled with distorted views of weight and false facts about the effects of anorexia/bulimia.

"One of the Web sites I looked at just recently said that there is a difference between anorexics, who are people who get ill, and rexxies, who are people who do it right and don't die. And one of their quotes on this Web site was, 'Anorexics die, rexxies live forever,'" Lagges said.

While ludicrous to most people, many people who visit these sites find these comments comforting. "I think it's sort of this sense that there's something special about having an eating disorder and not wanting treatment. You know, 'Nobody else can understand us' and 'Unless you're part of this you can't understand us. We really don't want to talk to you about it. You're not welcome in our world,'" Lagges said.

These sites also let "rexxies" see how they measure up to other "rexxies" by posting weights, calories consumed and photos both of excessively fat and excessively thin women for "thinspiration." In her book, Menzie writes about her competition with another anorexic girl at her school.

Menzie emphasizes that these sites fuel such competition. "I would say that these sites are not a way of comfort; it's a way to encourage a debilitating disease. They're doing the opposite of seeking help. They're seeking ways to further damage themselves."

Lagges points out that starvation is not a lifestyle choice, as these sites imply. "Basically they challenge the idea that eating disorders are psychiatric issues, that it is a voluntary thing, and that people who try to tell them otherwise are either jealous or not understanding what they're all about."

By encouraging girls to live the "lifestyle" of anorexia, these pro-ana and pro-mia sites are the ones who end up harming the rexxies -- not the doctors.

"One of the things that we'll talk about in treatment of the eating disorder is what has the eating disorder taken away from you," Lagges explained.

Eating disorders do take a lot away from people -- their social life, physical appearance and mental stability, Lagges said.

"It's robbed you of being able to have fun with your friends. It's robbed you of being able to have enough energy to do things like play sports. Maybe your grades have gone down because you don't have enough time or energy to focus on schoolwork."

"Girls do die from it because it gets out of control. It's not something they manage -- it's something that just takes over their whole lives," Menzie said.

Lagges says cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves helping the person understand how thoughts, emotions and actions work together, has been the most successful treatment for bulimia. Anorexia treatment is more complicated and often involves counseling for families as well as for patients, she added.

Menzie said she recovered with the help of family, friends, doctors and counselors.

"It took a long time for me to really accept myself and say, 'It's OK if you're sad sometimes. It's OK if you don't get an A on this. It's OK if even your recovery isn't picture-perfect' because life is not about being perfect. It's about living and experiencing things and putting your values where they belong."

"Diary of an Anorexic Girl"is published by W Publishing Group.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
This is a dangerous development on the net, one of growing concern.

These sites also let "rexxies" see how they measure up to other "rexxies" by posting weights, calories consumed and photos both of excessively fat and excessively thin women for "thinspiration."
This, of course, perpetuates the problem by focusing attention on the distorted perceptions of the disorder instead of on the emotional and cognitive issues which create/trigger the disorder.


I read in another article that google was not allowing these sites in their search engine.
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