But what if these websites go too far? What if these healthy living blogs end up teaching people unhealthy techniques for over-exercise and under-eating? It's a possibility, but it's also something that is already being done intentionally on "Pro-Ana" websites.
"Ana" is a nickname for anorexia, used almost as a term of endearment by girls striving for a dangerously thin body. There are between 400 and 500 "pro-ana" websites today that provide diet tips, inspiration photos and community forums. Fasting is promoted, eating less than 500 calories per day is admired, and purging is listed as a viable option. In fact, there are "Pro-Mia" (bulimia) sites as well. It's estimated that one in five six to 11 year old children have been exposed to these websites.
Are you shocked? Angry? Disturbed?
Pro-Ana sites provide validation for girls in the midst of an eating disorder and encouragement to those who are struggling to become as thin as certain models and celebrities. The forums allow girls to share their experiences, often leading to competitive dieting. There are pages dedicated to hiding these behaviors from friends and family, and on occasion even links to pro-suicide sites.
Anorexia and bulimia are serious diseases, not something to strive for. Over 10 million Americans suffer from Eating Disorders each year. The medical complications are many, including muscle loss, hair loss and a risk of both heart failure and kidney failure. Anorexia specifically has the highest premature death rate of any mental disease. Having personally suffered from Anorexia, I know that it is something I would never wish upon anyone. That one would choose such harmful and lonely habits is incredibly disheartening.
The good news (if there can be any good news) is that many of the websites are being shut down. Some of the "pro-ana" sites, however, are staying live by claiming they are actually pro-recovery. It's common to see a disclaimer on the home page, or even language saying the site does not support or promote anorexic behavior. Dig deeper, though, and the telltale content is still there.
So what can be done?
Promote positive body image. Watch what you say in front others, especially younger girls and especially on the Internet. Instead support nutritious meals, beneficial activity and abounding energy.
Donate to eating disorder research. Eating disorder research is largely underfunded compared to other mental diseases.
Donate and promote eating disorder education. Many times these harmful websites are found by girls seeking out information or answers to questions about the disorders.
Clare Brady is a Healthy Living Blogger currently living in Dallas, Texas but originally from St. Louis, Missouri. On her blog, Fitting It All In, Clare shares her experiences with living a healthy lifestyle while balancing a busy schedule. Currently she is working full-time as advertising account executive, seeing clients as a Certified Holistic Health Coach, exercising often, cooking as much as possible, and making sure to spend time with friends. You can find Clare on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.