Does Anyone Remember the Pro-Ana Sites on Live Journal?

Warning: if you are suffering from an eating disorder, this may not be an appropriate post for you to read. This post is a discussion about what used to be on the pro-ana sites of the mid 2000s. Lots of this stuff was bad for people. These sites were frequented primarily by women, but there has been an increase in the number of men and boys who are diagnosed with eating disorders, and also increases in people in higher age groups.

Scarily – it still exists. These days it’s a support site so I will post the link here

Dr. Blake Woodside from the eating disorder program at Toronto General Hospital says that boys and men account for a third of cases he sees. “Men get these conditions, they die from these conditions, they suffer from these conditions. This is not just an illness of women.”  It used to be a condition associated with adolescent girls and young women, but these days older women are being diagnosed as well.

Pro-ana sites have copped a lot of criticism, and rightfully so. People surf these sites for support when trying to lose weight in an extreme way and some of them don’t moderate and allow comments to be posted that could be encouraging people to move further down the track of disordered eating.

Wikipedia says, “Medical professionals treating eating disorders have long noted that patients in recovery programs often “symptom pool”, banding closely together for emotional support and validation. Anorexics may collectively normalize their condition, defending it not as an illness but as an accomplishment of self-control and an essential part of their identity.”

Just as obesity is contagious, eating disorders are contagious too. Here are some of the things we used to see on pro-ana boards on Live Journal, many of which were simply encouraging (mostly women and girls) to do silly things in the name of weight loss. Eating disorders are serious things and have a high death rate at the extreme end and can cause psychological problems and major pain.

Most women I know have a weird relationship with food. I can’t really name any of my peer group (women in their 30s who should know better) who don’t heavily restrict what they eat, whether it’s being gluten-free, vegan, paleo, organic or raw. There is a difference between restricting your food and an eating disorder, but we all know someone who has gone too far.

Food is a major issue for our society, and these sites were a part of our history too. Remember these features of pro-ana sites?

Whited-out words

To avoid ‘triggering’ another disordered eater, people would post with whited out words, to avoid people seeing their food lists unless they made a deliberate effort to. This would look like this: Today I ate a banana muffin and a large hot chocolate and I felt like I had lots of energy but then I felt guilty. Later in the day I had a peppermint tea and three cookies but I managed a healthy dinner. You should be able to read the words if you run your cursor over them.

Progress pics

This was where people would post a shot of themselves at their high weight and then again at their low weight, showing how they were progressing in their weight loss. There are still many progress sites on the web and many of these can be very inspiring. However, some of the progress shots on Live Journal showed women who had gone too far.


Google thinspo and you’ll find lots of confronting images. Mostly these are confronting for the fact that there is so much imagery out there in the mainstream media that is unhealthy and provides women with unrealistic expectations. Women would post what they called ‘thinspo’ – these were shots of women looking particularly thin. The idea is that users of the site would look at these photos when they were thinking about eating. It’s the modern day equivalent of putting a shot of Cindy Crawford in a bikini on your fridge. But much more disturbing.


Yep – women (and men) would post artistic shots of jutting bones on their neck and shoulder-lines, and very often of their hip bones too. It was a competitive thing, with users showing their progress via pictures. In a very damaging and inappropriate way.


One of the main reasons people came to these sites was in fact, for support. The SMH wrote an article about this, where they quoted a 21 year old woman named Emma: “It’s actually nice to read,” she says. ”It makes me feel like I’m not alone, like other people are going through these things and people understand. I go through stages where I think pro ana is a fantastic idea, and I get right into it, I read about it and I look for buddies. Then all of a sudden I’ll binge and then I’ll be, like, obviously, restricting isn’t a realistic plan for me.”


Some good (here’s a support group in your area) many bad (here’s how you purge with a toothbrush) these pro-ana sites often provided tips to do with eating disorders. As moderators became more heavily involved, irresponsible tips were removed. Emma says, ”Even if I try and eat normally, because I’ve developed a habit of bingeing, I’ll still binge. If that happens many times, I feel like I can’t do it anymore, I need a break. And so I’ll go back to restricting. Pro ana is sort of there for when I can’t fight any more.”


A moderator is someone (usually a volunteer) who looks after a site and makes sure it says on-topic and on-track. They may add or remove users who violate the rules. Frequently, pro-ana sites were removed and put back up, making the moderator an important function of these pro-ana sites.

Age of users

“It does scare me too, I was talking to someone on there once … and she was 13 or 14, and that just breaks my heart. I feel like saying stop, don’t get into this mess, get out of it while you’ve got the chance.” Many of the people who used these sites were kids with nothing better to do. They made friends online and were encouraged to do stupid things with food in a competitive way. This is nothing new. One of my favourite bloggers Penelope Trunk wrote a great post called 4 Weight-loss tips from my month in the mental ward which sounds awful but I would recommend reading it because it’s about the emotional connection we have with food and how sometimes very high achievers can fall into disordered patterns.

Read it. It will make this whole awful post feel a lot better.

Do you think this post is irresponsible? Please let me know your thoughts.

  1. May 30, 2013

    I recall the proana and thinspo sites of the late 90’s to mid 20’s. I don’t feel that this is an inappropriate post. It’s pretty informative without too much prejudice. Who knows, maybe a 13 year old will google some keywords and come across this post as opposed to a mentally jarring yet alluring site, and make a better informed decision regarding their own mental health. Kudos.

    1. May 31, 2013

      Thanks so much for your comment. I was a little unsure about this post – but I thought the same thing. I think these sites will always be around in one form or another. Thanks again.

  2. Pingback: Pro Ana websites and the dangerous culture they instilled

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