Thinspiration is often found on sites that are “pro-ana”(pro-anorexia) or “pro-mia” (pro-bulimia). Pro-ana sites are, at best, sites that provide a support group for people battling with anorexia, and at worst, sites that offer a how-to on becoming anorexic. Pro-mia sites are similar, except they focus more on bulimia.
So how accessible are websites like this? When I searched “thinspo” through a search engine, there were about 3.2 million results. With these sites so readily accessible, it’s important to educate yourself on warning signs of eating disorders and what you can do to help if you suspect a loved one may be battling with an eating disorder.
I spoke with Courtenay Chamberlain, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW-C) with Meritus Health’s behavioral health services, about eating disorders. Here’s what she said:
What are the warning signs of an eating disorder?
Signs of anorexia:
- Significant weight loss
- Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams, and dieting
- Intense fear of weight gain or being "fat" even though underweight
- Distorted body image
- Frequent comments about feeling fat, being overweight, and weight loss
- Avoids mealtimes and/or situations involving food
- Excessive exercise regimen
- Develops food rituals and rules
- flat mood
- lack of emotion
- social withdrawal
- wearing baggy or layered clothing
- Evidence of binge eating and purging which are usually secretive, a source of shame, with loss of control of eating
- Excessive exercise regimen
- Extreme concern with body weight and shape
- Focuses on weight loss, dieting, and control of food intake
- Body weight within normal range (people with bulimia are not necessarily underweight)
- Distorted, negative body image
- Low self-esteem
What should a parent do if they suspect their child may have an eating disorder?
- Learn as much as possible about eating disorders - see National Eating Disorders Association
- Collect information on available resources for obtaining treatment
- Contact your health insurance company to identify providers and understand your benefits
- Find a skilled physician to complete a thorough medical exam
- Address concerns to your child, focusing more on mood (depression, anxiety) and behavior (isolation, relationships) than on food and eating behavior
- Ask if your child is ready to explore your concerns with a healthcare professional with expertise in eating disorders. If necessary, connect with other important figures in your child's life who may share the same concern.
- Obtain support for yourself through good self-care.
What should a friend do if she thinks someone has an eating disorder?
- Learn about eating disorders, and plan to address it with your friend in a private, compassionate manner, when time allows for discussion without many distractions
- Provide support and encouragement, but do not belabor the point if your friend is not receptive to your concerns and continues to deny the existence of a problem
- Enlist the help of trusted adults and other friends to address your concerns.
What are some treatment options?
A variety of treatment options are available, based on severity of the problem. Most treatment consists of a combination of medication and therapy. Therapy may involve once or twice weekly outpatient sessions, or an intensive outpatient program, involving longer group therapy, in addition to individual sessions, residential treatment, or inpatient hospitalization for medical stabilization and intensive treatment. Treatment modalities most often used are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Behavioral Therapy (BT), and Maudsley.
How can I help my child have a healthy body image?
- Serve as a good role model; don’t criticize your own body in front of your children
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, and provide the same for your children.
- Educate your children on the purpose of eating healthfully
- Do no use food as a "reward" for good behavior or a hard day
- Use candy sparingly, not as a "treat" but as simply an occasional food, due to the low nutritional value, etc.
- Emphasize the value of good health, rather than focusing strictly on size and weight
- Promote physical activity.
- Educate your children on the pitfalls of dieting
- Demonstrate and promote an attitude of acceptance of different body shapes and sizes
- Ensure that your child has regular check-ups where early indicators of an eating disorder may be identified through monitoring of eating habits, self-image and BMI (body mass index).
- Monitor your child's computer use to learn if they have visited any pro - eating disorder websites.
If you, or someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder and you need help, please contact Meritus Health’s Behavioral Health Services at 301.766.7600.
By: Kayla Murphy