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Pro-Ana Thinspiration: Signs, Symptoms and One Test of Women Dying to be Thin

Anorexia Miss A

The Pro-Ana Thinspiration movement is a disturbing merging of social media and eating disorders where women literally dying to be thin are learning the tricks of extreme weight loss on the internet. Unfortunately, women and young girls who learn how to starve themselves to thinness are also becoming adept at learning how to hide their illness from friends and family. The good, but tragic news is that there are a variety of signs and symptoms indicating anorexia, but if all else fails, scientists have developed one easy test that lies cannot hide.

To understand what to look for in determining whether a friend or loved one is suffering from this extreme eating disorder, it helps to understand a little about the condition and why some women will go to such lengths to waste their waists and lives away.

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is life threatening eating disorder defined by a person’s active refusal to maintain their body weight within 15 percent of the recommended body weight standard for a person of a particular height. Other defining characteristics of someone suffering from anorexia nervosa are intense and unreasonable fears of gaining weight, a distorted personal body image, denial that an eating disorder problem exists and lack of a minimum of three consecutive menstrual cycles.

The majority of cases of anorexia nervosa occurs in pre- or post-puberty girls and young women, but can develop in men and children as young as seven years old as well as post-menopausal women well past retirement age. Studies have shown that young females are particularly vulnerable to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa due to societal pressure to achieve an "ideal" figure as perceived through television, movies and advertisements. Other at-risk individuals include athletes, actors, dancers, models and TV personalities for whom being thin is a professional requirement. Conservative estimates place the number of anorexic women at one percent of the female population in the U.S., which means that up to approximately 1.5 million women are affected by this eating disorder.

Weight loss via anorexia nervosa is typically achieved by reducing total food intake and excessive exercise. In many cases calorie restriction results in 1000 calories or less per day with more extreme cases involving as little as 200 calories per day. Their diet consists of low-calorie foods and beverages like diet drinks and coffee taken with high doses of diet suppressing medications.

The causes of anorexia nervosa are still not well understood, but are believed to have some genetic influence or predisposition. Treatment for anorexia typically focuses on psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy to change the underlying attitudes toward an individual’s body image.

Treating anorexia nervosa focuses on three components:

• Restoring the person to a healthy weight
• Treating the psychological issues related to the eating disorder
• Reducing or eliminating behaviors or thoughts that lead to insufficient eating and preventing relapse

However, research has shown that involving the anorexic’s family during treatment holds the most promise for enacting change and permanent recovery.

The Pro-Ana movement

One phenomena that has recently developed among people with eating disorders is an insidious support system that is pro-anorexia. What was once a secret society or community of anorexics is now an open internet community that encourages others to become anorexic and views anorexia as a legitimate lifestyle choice no different than any other. People who follow this belief are referred to as Pro-Ana supporters and seekers of thinspiration.

Thinspiration is a semi-religious belief-like practice with quasi-spiritual/ascetic undertones that equates extreme thinness with purity and food as a sin or corruption of the body. Thinness purists have even adopted their own version of the Ten Commandments that they refer to as the “Thin Commandments”:

1. If you aren't thin you aren't attractive.

2. Being thin is more important than being healthy.

3. You must buy clothes, cut your hair, take laxatives, starve yourself, do anything to make yourself look thinner.

4. Thou shall not eat without feeling guilty.

5. Thou shall not eat fattening food without punishing oneself afterwards.

6. Thou shall count calories and restrict intake accordingly.

7. What the scale says is the most important thing.

8. Losing weight is good/ gaining weight is bad.

9. You can never be too thin.

10. Being thin and not eating are signs of true will power and success.

Furthermore, supporters of anorexia have developed their own mantras to help themselves and others like them cope with their disease. Examples include phrases such as:

• “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.”

• “Hunger hurts, but starving works.”

• “The difference between want and need is self-control.”

• “Without food I am beautiful. Without food I am perfect.”

The danger of this movement is that it has a very real influence on young girls that are impressionable, subjected to peer pressure and ridicule at school, lacking maturity and the will to resist the promise of thinness. A secondary audience that is at risk from this movement are everyday women who are frustrated by their weight loss attempts through normal dieting and exercise and are willing to try some “experimentation.” A cursory look at blog postings in Pro-Ana websites reveals currently non-anorexic women seeking advice on how to lose a quick 10 or 20 pounds from openly anorexic women.

However, Pro-Ana supporters are not just the anorexic seeking to justify their supposed lifestyle. As it turns out, there is a sexualizing of severe anorexia that has non-anorexic followers who encourage women to starve themselves in order to feed their own sexual preferences. Apparently anorexia-chic is a hot topic and subject to further sexual exploitation of women.

How anorexics hide their condition

For many anorexics hiding their condition has become an art form were artfulness in front of parents and friends relies on subterfuge and lying. Here are just a few examples summarized from a Pro-Ana site for underage girls on how to fool your parents and friends:

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Situation #1: You are at home for dinner with the family and facing a meal of carbs and calories.

• Say that you don't like that particular food.

• Claim to have a sore throat.

• Eat a small amount and say that you had a big snack after school.

• Say that you can't eat that particular thing without sauce/dressing/whatever. If it already has some, say that you don't like that particular kind.

• Say that you have to go for a run and that you don't want to eat too much before you go.

Situation #2: You have to eat lunch with your friends at school and want to avoid their questioning your eating habits.

• Just say that you don't feel well. But use it wisely. People will start to wonder why you always get sick at lunch time.

• Say that you ate a big breakfast. But be sure to have a list in mind and can recite it as if you had actually eaten the food.

• Say that you forgot your lunch.

• Say that you found a hair in your sandwich you were eating and make a huge deal out of it. This works every time.

• Just drop your lunch on the ground. You can't eat it then. And this will help keep you from eating it too.

What to look for in an anorexic

While attempts to hide their anorexia from friends and family can and do work, at least to some point it will get so bad that nothing will hide the truth. The following is a list of signs, symptoms and indications that someone is suffering from anorexia:

• People with anorexia nervosa will often mention that the sense of control they develop over eating and weight helps them feel as if other aspects of their life are under control.

• Intense and unreasonable fears of gaining weight.

• Lack of a minimum of three consecutive menstrual cycles.

• Distorted body image

• People with anorexia nervosa typically weigh themselves repeatedly, portion food carefully, and eat very small quantities of only certain foods.

• Extreme thinness (emaciation)

• Thinning of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)

• Drop in internal body temperature, causing a person to feel cold all the time

• Their nails and hair become brittle

• Their skin may become dry and yellow

• Swollen joints

• Muscle atrophy

• Kidney and heart failure resulting in death

Anorexia test that defies lies

When failure to recognize the signs and symptoms of anorexia, or difficulty in confronting the potentially anorexic family member becomes an issue, scientists have discovered a way to determine whether someone is anorexic just by analyzing a few hairs from the individuals head.

In a study published in the scientific journal Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, researchers report that by analyzing the carbon and nitrogen isotope content of a person’s hair that it is possible to distinguish between individuals who suffer from anorexia and bulimia. Because the nutritional health of hair is a reflection of what you eat, analyzing the proteins in a strand of hair can reveal what a person’s body is going through nutritionally and thereby indicate whether someone is suffering from an eating disorder.

In spite of the Pro-Ana Thinspiration movement and what some people argue as to their personal right to do what they will with their body, anorexia is a mental illness that supersedes any argument of anorexia as an acceptable lifestyle choice. And as such, must be treated with sensitivity as well as with regulation. While we should recognize that not all anorexics choose to have an eating disorder and that they are entitled to as much medical care and sympathy as possible, supporters of an anorexic “death style” need to be banned from harmful online propaganda that endangers our youth. If alcohol and cigarettes can be removed from easy access by our youth, why not equally harmful information as well?

Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia

National Alliance Mental Illness

"An objective means of diagnosing anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa using 15N/14N and 13C/12C ratios in hair" Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry; Volume 20, Issue 22 , Pages 3367 – 3373; Kent A. Hatch, Morgan A. Crawford, Amanda W. Kunz, Steven R. Thomsen, Dennis L. Eggett , Stephen T. Nelson and Beverly L. Roeder.