Can You Be Healthy If You Don't Have a Healthy Sense of Self?

by DavalosMcCormack on June 21, 2010

How we see ourselves is a truly important part of how healthy we are. You can be super fit but in bad shape because you are always angry or stressed or just miserable.  And at the extreme end of things you can be super thin, and still not be healthy because you are slowly, steadily, starving yourself to death. A new study highlights just how dangerous that kind of distorted self-image can be.

The study, by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, looked at the content and messages put out by websites that appear to support eating disorders such as anorexia and bulemia. People suffering from these disorders are already struggling with a horrible self-image, which is why they resort to either almost starving themselves to death or binging and purging as a way of keeping their weight down. The study found that people with these disorders who visited these kinds of sites, particularly young people, were more likely to engage in even more intense eating disorder behaviours. In other words, if you already have a problem these sites can make it worse.


Woman suffering from anorexia

When is thin too thin

What kind of websites are we talking about? Sites that preach a message of “Thinspiration” to people who are already perilously thin, telling them that this is a healthy, natural way to look. Here are a few excerpts from one website called Proanorexia.

“This is going to sound… well, sick, or maybe not, I’m not sure, I’m fairly new to this whole world of ana, but… I actually like having that hunger there. It’s a reminder, or even a promise, of one more day of starvation behind me and one day closer to my goal weight.”

“I’m 19, currently 115lbs:( my goal is 99 by september 1st (college starts!). I found this community a few month ago and it has helped me stay focused reading all of your posts!”

One girl posted that she managed to “avoid” eating most of the day until after she donated blood. ” So like 315-350 calories for the day. I’m ok with that, considering the donating and the prior fast.”

Other sites, such as Anafantasy, are thick with images of stick-thin girls, models and celebrities, as a way of “thinspiring” others to reach those weights.

Binge and Purge

The pro-bulemia ones are not much better, giving out a steady stream of advice on how to lose weight, fast. At Community.livejournal the posts range from the obsessive to the almost suicidal. It makes for painful reading.

“Why do I make promises I know are too hard to keep? And then force myself to keep them so somebody else won’t be disappointed? I can’t purge anymore.. But I need to.. I hate this.”

“If I have to wake up to this body one more time, I won’t wake up again.”

The researchers at Johns Hopkins say there are many other great sites out there, with really good information, to help people who want to get into recovery, but that often it’s these pro-disorder sites that attract those most in need of help.

Deadly Consequences

This is a sickness. But thanks to pro-disorder websites the people who need help are not getting it and instead getting encouragement to continue with the destructive behaviour that is tearing them apart.

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