What is Pro-Ana? Your Teen's Dangerous Thinspiration

Learn What and How Pro-Ana Sites Feed Your Teen Damaging Messages About Eating

teen girl with laptop
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Teens at-risk for eating disorders may use Pro-Ana (or pro-anorexia) websites for advice that supports dangerous eating patterns. Also called Pro-ED (short for pro-eating disorder), these sites, according to a recent study in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders, "offer a sense of support, validation and reassurance to those in the midst of an eating disorder, whilst simultaneously reinforcing and maintaining eating disordered behavior."

Though small in scale, the study revealed those suffering with an eating disorder may lean on these sites for support even though they are aware that their messages are harmful. Pro-Ana messaging glorifies anorexia as a lifestyle choice, provides inaccurate information about weight loss, and supports unhealthy eating patterns.

What Pro-Ana Sites Teach Your Teen

In addition to content, photos, and videos are used to promote behavior that could develop into an eating disorder (or make an existing one worse). These include:

  • Tips on hiding weight loss from others
  • Advice on purging
  • Controlling food intake
  • Suppressing hunger pains
  • Pairing up with a "fasting partner"

There is usually imaging that supports these practices such as pictures of extremely thin, usually famous women, in a section called "Thinspiration," videos of extreme weight loss, and "inspiring" quotes by members such as, "You can never be too thin" and "Eating is a feeling, this is an art."

If you think your teen would not be swayed by these messages, think again. A study of in the European Eating Disorders Review found a group of women with a BMI over 18 and no history of an eating disorder cut caloric intake by over 3,000 calories per week after being exposed to Pro-Ana websites for just an hour and a half.

What's more, even 3 weeks after the study, the effects of the messaging persisted.

Other Sites to Watch That Encourage Eating Disorders

Although Pro-Ana sites appear to be the most popular, there are other sites with a similar approach to encouraging eating disorders. Pro-Mia sites promote bulimia, and there are other Pro-ED (pro-eating disorder) sites encouraging the "control" of food as a way to improve self-esteem and be proud of one's ability to do so. You, as a parent, teacher, or friend, are the first line of defense to help your loved one understand that the messages these sites promote can result in unhealthy and out of control behavior with significant emotional and physical consequences.

What Can Parents Do?

If you are suspicious that your teen may be engaging in information on Pro-Ana websites, here's what you can do:

  • Monitor your teen's eating habits, comments, and attitudes surrounding food, weight, and dieting.
  • Talk with your teen about any significant changes in behavior and share your concerns in a strategic way so as to promote open dialogue, rather than anger, arguments, or disappointment which could lead to further isolation and hiding in your teen.
  • Discuss with your teen your willingness to help and ask if they would be open to joining a support group moderated by a licensed mental health professional.
  • Redirect your teen to healthy examples of eating behavior and reputable resources that focus on a positive view of recovery from eating disorders.

What's Really Going On?

You may wonder why your teen would be interested in such unhealthy information, but there may be something they are avoiding and participating in Pro-Ana sites are their attempt to cope with those  issues through controlling their weight through starvation. They may feel that finding community through Pro-Anorexia channels will help them. Unfortunately, you may not be able to completely block your teen from Pro-Ana messages, but do your best to stay engaged and be that positive support for them, so you can recognize the signs of their involvement in Pro-Anorexia sites and do something to help before it's too late.


Leigh Gale, Mike Larner, Darren James, Sue Channon. Experiences of using pro-eating disorder websites: a qualitative study with service users in NHS eating disorder services. Eating and Weight Disorders: EWD. 2015 November 21. pp 1-8. 

Scarlett Jett, David J. LaPorte, Jill Wanchisn. Impact of exposure to pro-eating disorder websites on eating behaviour in college women. European Eating Disorders Review. 2010 Sep-Oct. pp 410-416

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