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The sad and growing saga of Ana and Mia

Pro-ana and pro-mia websites are spreading the culture of eating disorders

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They have dark, haunting names: Plague Angel; Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me from Floating; Gloomsday; Ana’s Underground Grotto.

They come replete with tips like these on how to avoid eating or how to hide the fact you don’t eat from family or friends:

• Make yourself a snack, but instead of eating it throw it away. Leave the dirty dishes where your parents can find them. They will think you ate.

• Say you are going to eat at a friend's house and instead go for a walk. You will be burning calories instead of taking them in.

• Drink one glass of water every hour. It will make you feel full.

• Wear a rubber band around your wrist. Snap it when you want to eat.

• Clean something gross (toilet, litter box, boyfriend’s closet) when you want to eat. You will not want to eat after cleaning a litter box.

They also feature "trigger" images – "thinspirational" photos of models and actors (Kate Moss is a popular one) – some of them so disturbingly gaunt you could weep. Other images are negative triggers – photos of monstrously fat people intended to gross out viewers. Either way they’re meant to discourage you from eating by either reminding you how far from "perfection" you are, or how gross obesity is just a thin slice of cake away.

They often feature personal expressions – journals, poetry, artwork – and well-used chat rooms, message boards and guest books. They also provide links to resources and lists of so-called safe foods that contain the least number of calories – things like diet colas, egg whites, black coffee, and "negative calorie foods" like celery, that some profess will burn more calories in digestion than they actually contain.

"Pro-ana" (for "pro-anorexia") and "pro-mia" (for "pro-bulimia") sites are popping up like flies on the web, giving people with eating disorders – primarily girls and young women – variously, an outlet for venting, a focus or extension for their world view or simply a point of contact.

"It’s a means to express myself," said Sarah, who set up her own pro-ana site, in a CBC radio interview. "It’s really, really lonely (being anorexic)."

Sarah, like many other pro-ana and pro-mia website creators, professes that she doesn’t want to promote anorexia and bulimia. Many of the sites have warnings urging people with eating disorders, or ED, to leave the site immediately. But simply by virtue of the fact that they exist, the sites can’t help but foster the ED culture.

"It’s so important for parents and community leaders to know that these sites exist because they encourage the proliferation of eating disorders," says Sheila Sherkat, a qualified counsellor and facilitator with the Disordered Eating Support Group, which operates under the auspices of Whistler Community Services.

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