Eating disorders affect 1.6million people in the UK, and websites promoting anorexia and bulimia (‘Pro-Ana’ and ‘Pro-Mia’) are thought to be key factors behind this statistic.
Evidence found in a study published in European Eating Disorders Review supports this. A group of young, healthy female students with no history of eating disorders were exposed to 1.5 hours of pro-anorexia sites, and in the following week they decreased their calorie intake. Some participants even admitted to using techniques and tips they viewed on the sites to lose weight.
Discovering that your child has searched for eating disorders online, and/or has visited a pro-anorexia website can be worrying, but you shouldn’t immediately suspect the worst. Parents in this situation should however be extra mindful of their child’s online activity, being careful to monitor the sites they visit and stay aware of their eating habits to ensure nothing worrying develops.
Here are some tips to follow if you are worried that your child is viewing pro-anorexia websites:
Do your research
Look at your child’s Internet history and try to find out the types of sites they have been looking at. Are they researching sites that describe and provide information about eating disorders and their symptoms, or are they promoting weight-loss and eating disorders as a lifestyle choice (i.e. offering ‘thinspiration’)?
It might also be worthwhile checking whether or not your child has been looking at YouTube videos more frequently. People with eating disorders are more likely to seek out videos that offer weight-loss tips and tricks to viewers.
Talk to your child
Before jumping to conclusions, it is important to sit down with your child and gently approach the matter of their pro-anorexia Internet viewing to find out why they have been doing it. The same level of concern should be applied to boys as well as girls, as 11% of those suffering with eating disorders in the UK are male.
You cannot tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them, but you can look out for certain signs. These include a change in your child’s eating habits and any sign of dramatic weight-loss. Has your child started wearing multiple layers of clothing? This is a common tactic used by people with eating disorders to disguise their weight-loss. Other habits your child may have if they are developing an eating disorder include:
- weighing themselves more than once a day
- taking up compulsive exercise which is usually quite intense such as cycling or running
- regular trips to the toilet after mealtimes.
You are recommended to contact your GP if you do find cause for concern.