ALBANY, New York – The desire to be thin is hard to escape. Especially in a social media driven world where you’re surrounded by images of what you’re supposed to look like.
For some young people that desire can turn deadly, driving them to potentially dangerous websites.
It’s a troubling trend, and we want to warn you the pictures on some of these websites are hard to look at. After reading through the message boards, browsing through dozens of pages, what we found would disturb any parent who’ had a child that’s ever considered dieting or trying to lose weight.
At first you might just see this as mother and her daughter bonding while baking a batch of cookies.
But, this experience of bonding over food is more special to Helen Caroll than she may let on. It comes following a long road paved by recovery.
“It’s such a basic thing to have your children eat,” said Helen.
“I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa,” said her daughter, Natalie.
17-year-old Natalie Posner is recovering from anorexia after two stints in treatment.
“Eighth grade was kind of hard for me, going through changes of friends group moving into a new school going into Niski High School was way bigger than I was used to, a lot of new people I didn’t know,” said Natalie.
With that came a lot of social anxiety. Freshmen and sophomore years of high school Natalie focused more and more on what she was eating, or rather not eating.
“It didn’t start off; I didn’t just decide to have an eating disorder. It’s not something you decide,” she said. I was going to start eating healthy, and then things snow balled.”
For months she hid it from her parents and she went unnoticed.
“I definitely isolated myself a lot, cut myself off from all my friends,” said Natalie.
Natalie was severely underweight when she was admitted into treatment, and that’s where she learned about dangerous websites promoting the very thing slowly killing her.
“Since then I have seen some of these sites it’s upsetting seeing people support other girls and boys starve themselves,” Natalie said.
All over social media: Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram. It’s a troubling trend at the fingertips of millions of tech savvy teens. Many of them vulnerable about body image like Natalie was, looking at Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia websites, creating a safe-haven for girls struggling with an eating disorder, encouraging young women to not eat stay hungry, providing tips, posting pictures that show nothing but skin and bones.
“Ways to go to the doctor and weigh in more than what they really are, those can be very dangerous with someone skirting with the idea,” Helen said.
“Seeing people on TV would definitely have triggered me. Like I said, the fad diets or having thigh gaps would make me obsessed with these things,” Natalie said.
“Kids spend so much time online these days, as parents you don’t know what they’re looking at,” said Dr. Anderson. “If they are looking at them, my guess is most parents won’t know about them,” he continued.
Dr. Drew Anderson, a psychology professor at UAlbany has focused his entire career and research on anorexia and bulimia, and it’s becoming evident to him that body image issues are increasing.
“Hashtags and things like websites develop a subculture that starts to become normal,” said Dr. Anderson.
Along with websites dedicated to the ultra-thin mindset, there are apps with similar messages parents don’t know about.
“It’s so rampant so available you don’t have to dig very deep,” Helen said.
“I think as we become more integrated in day to day lives it could become more common. It used to be you’d have to have a computer. Now, it’s on your phone. It’s easier and easier to hide it from others,” said Dr. Anderson.
Natalie feels lucky that by the time she discovered the sites, she was well into her treatment.
“I think it’s disturbing that people would draw someone into the disorder,” Natalie said. “I would have never helped someone else engage in behavior or teach them ways to lose weight,” She continued.
Now ready to go to college, with a new outlook, and a new do; Natalie is hoping her struggles serve as a warning to moms and dads. Issues with body image should never be taken lightly.
Doctors say keep an eye on their internet usage. If you see underweight models, and your child is isolating themselves, these can be signs that their struggling with an eating disorder.
One pediatrician I talked with says she’s seen girls as young as 7-years-old make comments about their weight!
For more information on eating disorders you can visit: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/anorexia-nervosa