While anorexics hop from one site to another and use everchanging hashtags to avoid bans on their pro-ana content, a new study shows that so-called thinspiration blogs could be a prelude to recovery.
Researchers at Indiana University interviewed 33 female pro-ana bloggers between ages 15 and 33. About two-thirds lived in the United States. The Indiana team acknowledged that their study findings are different from media coverage and other research about the pro-ana community.
While the writings and photos posted by anorexics can be disturbing, study results revealed that pro-ana bloggers are looking for support, rather than trying to recruit others to follow their unhealthy path, the study said.
Anorexia nervosa is classified as a mental disorder and afflicts more than 11 million people in the United States, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Anorexics lose between 15 and 60 percent of their healthy body weight.
"These communities are providing support, albeit supporting an illness that may result in someone's death," Nicole Martins, research team member, said in a statement. "But until they're ready to go and seek recovery on their own terms, this might actually be a way of prolonging their life, so that they are mentally ready to tackle their recovery process."
Tumblr , Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest all have policies to ban users who post material that promotes anorexia as a viable lifestyle. But pro-ana photos, advice and comments have not disappeared. For instance, a search for photos with the hashtag #thin produced more than 170,000 results on Instagram , including this one with the comment, "Someone make me look like this please?"
But the study suggests that most pro-ana bloggers realize they have a serious problem. Of the 33 women interviewed, 27 defined their eating disorder as a mental illness and six said it was a coping mechanism. Contrary to previous research based on content analysis of the blogs, only three of those interviewed called anorexia a "lifestyle."
The majority of the sample reported that blogging about their illness improves their mood, and they found relief through their writing.
"I think that's encouraging that a majority don't look at it as a lifestyle," Martins said. "The silver lining is there that if they realize that it's a disease, then maybe they'll eventually seek help for it. But right now this is how they're coping."