Pro-Ana Persuasions


Childhood Obesity News is looking at the influence of disordered thinking on disordered behaviors around food and eating. We mentioned that there is fierce warfare in the social media trenches. Adherents of the pro-ana philosophy fling aside the fact that anorexia nervosa is a serious and often deadly disease.

They are like rock-and-roll groupies, who slavishly adopt the lifestyle even if they can’t play a note of music and will never appear on stage. Forming bizarre “support” networks, they swap tips and tricks, hoping to eventually catch anorexia.

Those who promote this dangerous ambition romanticize it with such lyrical phrases as “my journey into ana.” To a pro-ana activist, anorexia is not an illness but an exalted calling that is esteemed, cultivated, and preached as if it were a legitimate religion. This holier-than-thou attitude puts down anyone who merely dabbles in standard exercise, and condemns a person with a reasonable eating habits as a poser who deserves no respect.

“Only water and you’ll be hotter”

In a pro-ana online coven, the members exchange militant slogans and give each other advice, like don’t inhale when walking past a bakery, lest calories be absorbed through the nose. (Who knows how much of this is trolling? Who is more to blame — the participants who take the nonsense seriously, or the disguised jokesters who just come for the fun of messing with unstable people’s heads?)

They seek out abusive relationships, like the young woman who solicited a “pro-ana buddy” to help in her weight-shedding efforts — someone who would help keep her “on track” by calling her a fat pig, via text messaging. The group is a place for agonized cries, like “I just want to cut the fat off my body.”

It is a platform for the vehement declaration of autonomous rights:

I do what I do for myself: I have a goal and I will not tolerate your attitude towards me.

A diligent striver for the anorectic condition will not only put up with, but actively pursue gastrointestinal pain and dysfunction, an impaired immune system, brittle nails, menstrual irregularities, imperfect wound healing, swollen saliva glands, rotting teeth, dizziness, fainting, insomnia, and inability to concentrate.

You gotta have a dream

She may be unable to climb a flight of steps without faltering from exhaustion. Hair may fall out of her head and grow instead in strange locations; her graying skin may be covered with technicolor bruises. She will prefer carcinogenic artificial sweeteners to natural sugar, and will quite likely gobble down diuretics, and pills that promise to melt the fat from her tissues. In the mirror she will see sleek definition, and not even recognize it as deterioration. Then she will cover up everything with layers of big clothes, which may not alleviate the constant sensation of cold, but will deflect prying eyes.

“Death is better than fat”

Of course this is all based on deceiving both the outside world and the self, and particularly on a total misunderstanding of the nature of a very real illness. “I took a much needed two week vacation from anorexia” is a declaration absurd on its face. A person does not take a vacation from anorexia any more than she takes a vacation from pancreatic cancer.

You either have it or you don’t. As one group’s anti-pro-ana moderater says,

Your decision to start “eating as little as possible” is not synonymous with anorexia. Anorexia is a life-threatening disease, which sufferers have no choice in developing — it is not a weight loss method with a specifically chosen starting date, and it is not something you can simply decide to “try”.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “S**t Pro-Anas Say,”, 2016
Source: “Physical signs of anorexia nervosa,”
Photo credit: Wendy Cope (litratcher) on Visualhunt/CC BY

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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