Abigail Natenshon, MA, LCSW, GCFP
Highland Park, Illinois 60035
Are Pro-Anorexic Web Sites A Danger to Your Child?
A young girl feels anxious and self-hating because, despite
efforts to lose weight, she feels fat. Seeking insights,
tips on more effective ways to weight loss, and support for
behaviors and attitudes that may be extreme or
dysfunctional, she logs on to one of the upwards of 400
controversial pro-anorexic web sites on the internet that
instruct both dyed- in- the- wool and “wannabe” anorexics
how to become the best anorexics they can be. Providing a
forum for exchanging and picking up tips, support,
encouragement, and validation for self-abusive behaviors,
these sites offer a sense of community and belonging as they
provide an incentive for the onset and perpetuation of
The continuing existence of these sites, despite their
having been banned by some of the larger search engines,
demonstrates the creative tenacity and dedication of girls
in search of disease, each other, and the sense of
acceptance, pride and mastery they achieve through excelling
at their behaviors and finding converts.
I have personally known young women through my practice
whose eating disorders were triggered by participation in
pro-anorexic sites, which encouraged the act of purging in
the interest of losing weight. These web-inspired behaviors
have, in turn led to eating disorders that have been
disruptive to lives of individuals and families, which take
a heavy toll on physical health, emotional well-being and
What can be done?
The most potent source of prevention for these problems
comes from the home, from parental modeling of healthy
values and healthy eating lifestyle for their children.
Eating disorders are the misuse of food to resolve emotional
problems. When parents teach kids to recognize their
feelings honestly and fully, to address and solve problems
effectively, and to act on getting their needs met
constructively, children will have little need or
inclination to turn to an eating disorder as a solution,
even if they are disposed in that direction through genetics
Nature abhors a vacuum. When parents do not step up to
address issues and answer children’s questions, (and in
fact, to help kids know what kinds of questions they need to
be asking) kids will turn to external forces to fill
themselves up, to get their needs met. They will turn to
peers, to anyone, in fact, who will pay them the attention
they seek and lend them credence.
I believe that all too frequently children innocently
consult the Internet in search of answers to important
questions that are of concern to them. In the process of
seeking information, they simply find themselves in the
wrong place at the wrong time. It can be just that
arbitrary. As a wholesome alternative for kids seeking
information through the Internet, I have created a web site
for children between the ages of 7 and 17 to answer their
questions and speak to their concerns about healthy eating,
healthy weight management and body image concerns. The
filled with articles, exercises and tests to stimulate young
people to come to know themselves and their eating behaviors
better. It invites youngsters to write to me personally for
professional consultation via email with questions that they
may have been embarrassed to ask anyone else or ever before.
Parents need to become aware when this type of media is
influencing their children.
Parents need to watch for signs of troubling influences.
Kids may begin to diet or restrict certain food groups.
They may worry about becoming fat even when they are
They may become preoccupied with calorie counting or
other fat-phobic behaviors,
Lose weight rapidly,
Make excuses not to eat meals together with the family,
Disappear into the bathroom after eating,
Refuse to go places where they may be required to eat,
Carry their own food with them to social events
Feel reluctant to attend family dinners or other family
Spend an inordinate amount of time at the computer.
What message can parents send to their girls to
counteract the negative messages online?
Parents need to send active and purposeful messages to their
children, particularly when they observe their child falling
off course through what appear to be misconceptions or
questionable eating attitudes and behaviors. They need to
teach children that:
The best way to be thin and stay thin is to eat
nutritious foods, including at least three meals a day,
including all of the food groups.
Kids should understand that there are no bad foods, as
long as foods are
eaten in moderation.
If a youngster needs to lose weight, the best way to do
so is to eat
differently, not less. Kids need to understand
that diets are the worst way to lose weight and that
childhood diets can be a precursor to adult obesity.
Parents are prepared to help. They can and will be
available to listen and to support; doing whatever it
takes to mentor and save their child in danger.