A growing number of teenagers who suffer from eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia, are posting messages and visiting “pro-anorexia” Web sites on which they share tips and strategies for losing weight, exercising and hiding their eating disorders from their friends and family. “Kris,” a 21 year-old bulimic college senior who operates such a Web site, claims participants can visit her site “without fear of being judged or ridiculed. We are all striving to accomplish the same thing…we are quite a close knit family.”
Medical experts and eating disorder survivors, however, feel these sites may propel teenagers, particularly women, into anorexia or bulimia. Bob Berkowitz, medical director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania, claims that “instead of a support group to get better,” these sites are “kind of a support system to stay sick.” Janice Saunders, who once suffered from anorexia and depression, now operates her own site www.eating-disorder.org/prosites.html to alert people of the dangers of pro-anorexia sites. She argues that visitors to the sites “believe [anorexia] is a lifestyle” and reinforce dangerous eating habits by “mak[ing] girls feel accepted.”
Anorexia nervosa, a potentially fatal psychological disorder, is identified by obsessive weight control and food deprivation. Bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating, followed by purging food by vomiting, laxative or diuretic use. Both eating disorders are often tied to low self-esteem and poor body images and can lead to severe physical damage or fatality due to weight loss and lack of proper nutrition.