I'm the #9 Result for One of the Deadliest Google Searches
Today’s topic of discussion is going to be a bit different than the others. We’ll be returning to the series of comprehensive reviews in which I write about what each eating disorder entails, what treatment looks like, etc. But for now, I want to highlight a very interesting phenomenon that could have profound importance for anyone in the ED recovery world.
As the title implies, and the video says, I am currently one of the Top 10 results on Google that comes up when you search for “proana.” And that’s just with that broad keyword, which I should note generates over 2.5 million results. With more specific queries, I rank even higher.
So why am I telling you this? Is this just a post dedicated to bragging about my mediocre Google rankings?
Well, to fully understand this (and what exactly “proana” means), make sure to first read my most popular article to date (by a factor of three!): The Pros of Proana and Promia (Yes, Really)
Okay, once you’ve read that and understand the point I was trying to make, you’ll be able to fathom why my high ranking for that keyword is so significant.
And for anyone who is in need of some motivation to recover, just take it from recovered teen athena:
You ignore the abuse you put your body through, as your insides suffer, because you were so angry that your outside wouldn't cooperate, even though all your body ever did was try to survive. Eating disorders are terrifying, because you’re scared that they'll never go away. That you'll never stop feeling the guilt when you eat. Scared that it'll always be about food and how you look and the grabbing and the constant shame, that you'll never be able to stop it. Though no one can help you stop, this is a struggle that starts and ends with you. People can support you, but you have do this for yourself. And the only way out is through. So feel the fear and the pain. Let it all in, and then let it all go.
(To read the rest of Athena’s touching story: Athena’s Eating Disorder Story)
The pros of proana and promia
As a refresher, the terms proana (pro-anorexia) and promia (pro-bulimia) refer to a disturbing trend on the internet wherein niche communities and forums will actually promote behaviors characteristic of anorexia nervosa, by far the deadliest psychiatric disorder. These platforms will promote behaviors like crash dieting, rapid weight loss, body hatred, purging tactics, and other advice that threatens to prolong and even worsen someone’s battle with this deadly disease.
For a comprehensive review of what anorexia entails, why people have it, and how it’s treated, definitely check out What Is Anorexia Nervosa?
As I explain in the original article, there are actual pros to proana and promia resources. That is to say, they actually do work in terms of attracting people going through these devastating disorders. Of course, the whopping list of cons includes the fact that people fighting through their EDs are being led to something so toxic and vicious.
But this still merits us paying some close attention. Clearly something in these forums, boards, and sites is making people (who are largely still in the precontemplative state of change and therefore very hard to reach) feel safe and supported. For all the negatives of these communities, it’s hard to deny how supportive they can be (albeit in a disturbing and pathological way).
They say they don’t judge you for your disorder, while the “therapist who just gets paid to tell you to get fat” has no empathy for you. Totally wrong and dangerous sentiments to spread, yes, but surely you can see why language like this is so enticing to people who feel alone, ignored, and misunderstood.
READ: 43 Reasons Not to Diet…
I know damn well while I was going through the throes of my binge eating, I fell victim to ploys like this. Forums where all of us struggled with binge eating behaviors and encouraged one another to just “diet it away” (which, in case you weren’t aware, does not work). This has always been especially rampant in the bodybuilding community.
The cons of pro-recovery
If we contrast these qualities to some of the themes seen in the eating disorder recovery community, we actually have a lot of work to do on our end. A trend I’ve seen over and over in our community is that we like to spit off feel-good information and inspirational pictures. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing this from time to time (I’ve come across some that I love and that I can tell are making others feel safe and supported), this cannot exist in lieu of new and useful content/information.
As voices in this direly needed community, we need to take a step back and understand what our role is here. Clearly, we want to help people trapped in the toxic cycle of dieting and other disordered behaviors see that it doesn’t have to be that way. We want to be their “way out” and give them the user-friendly, ultra simple tools to get from here to recovery.
Here’s one for you right now: 100 Days of Food Freedom: A Day-by-Day Journey to Self-Discovery, Freedom from Dieting, and Recovery from Your Eating Disorder. It’s a day-by-day guide to achieving recovery on your own terms. This is recovery simplified beyond how you’ve ever seen it.
Just imagine if all the thousands of ED recovery accounts out there were actually guiding people towards a real, workable solution. It’s not that these “soft posts” are bad. But just imagine if instead of spending all of our time badmouthing the diet industry (as I did here) and making sarcastic posts about diet culture (as I did here), we spent the majority of our time rallying behind treatment solutions that work and offering new and useful information.
For an example of a leader in our community who does an absolutely stellar job of this, check out Tabitha Farrar’s Eating Disorder Recovery Podcast. She brings people on to actually discuss new findings, new ways of looking at things, and tough topics surrounding recovery from an ED. If others in the recovery community could take her lead, we’d be miles ahead of where we currently are.
My challenge for you
This is something I consistently strive to do in the content I provide. Having presented new findings on refeeding strategies for anorexia and written a series of ultra-comprehensive reviews of eating disorder pathologies, my goal has always been to put novel information into the hands of others. I want to progress this field, as we are still in our dark ages of research (hell, the DSM itself can hardly agree upon operational definitions).
To this end, what I’ll challenge you to do is go a bit above and beyond what you’re already doing. If you’re promoting a lot of feel-good, body-positive posts, that’s perfectly fine. There’s a place for that, especially on social media platforms currently inundated with body-hatred and fatphobia. But also strive to add something new. If you can be that source for others (whether it’s by giving them academic info, practical info, anecdotal advice, etc.), you can become an agent of change and actually lead these people towards where they need to go.
I wrote this article to discuss this phenomenon of people searching “proana” and then disproportionately running into my site. This is a really good sign. These are search results that would otherwise lead them to some nasty results. I’m far from saying we all need to be this “Proana Trojan horse,” but that we should all be working to find a way to separate ourselves from the rest of the community and actually contribute something.
That could mean teaching people battling through eating disorders to make peace with their bodies and honor their hunger by cooking, if that’s your forte.
That could mean coaching others through strength training designed to pull them from the punitive and compensatory style of exercise they are trying to leave behind.
That could mean going around and interviewing recovered professionals to compile some of the most useful recovery strategies, and then distributing those so others can find them.
There is an endless amount of ways we can all play a role in this community. My only point in all of this is that we ought concern ourselves first and foremost with whether the roles we’re choosing are actually reaching who we’re trying to reach.