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More needs to be done about pro-anorexia web pop-ups

PUBLISHED: 11:21 17 September 2018 | UPDATED: 14:49 17 September 2018

More needs to be done about online pop-ups that promote eating disorders  Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

More needs to be done about online pop-ups that promote eating disorders Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Former eating disorder sufferer talks about the battle against social media.

A former anorexia nervosa sufferer 21-year-old Eliza knows only too well the dangers of pop ups on social media sites which promote weight loss.

Eliza, from Norwich, was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in 2012 but six years later she is now looking forward to heading off to Leeds University to study theology.

It has been a long slow battle - not helped by the social media images and websites promoting weight loss which she says added fuel to the fire at her most vulnerable points. This week an investigation discovered almost a dozen hashtags which are freely open with no warning, while seemingly promoting unhealthy and dangerous attitudes towards food and body image.

Instagram says it is working to improve the artificial intelligence it uses to protect vulnerable users after communities promoting eating disorders were not picked up on the app.

When Eliza started getting acne she turned to healthy eating but this soon spiralled out of control watching every calorie intake on a fitness healthy app.

It was thanks to support she received from East Anglian-based eating disorder charity BEAT as well as her parents and friends that she started eating healthily but it was a slow process with set backs.

Eliza blames pop ups on Instagram and other social media sites such as Tumblr for adding fuel to the fire when she was really vulnerable.

“When people post on Instagram you plan it and look your best which creates the impression that everyone has a really flat stomach, looks perfect and has an incredible lifestyle.

“It was really frustrating for my parents at times and they felt like there was nothing they could do – it was like talking to a brick wall. At times they didn’t want to get in the way of my space but knew they shouldn’t give me too much space and time by myself on searching online for information.”

Beat’s director of external affairs, Tom Quinn, said: “So-called pro-ana and pro-mia content is unfortunately widespread on social media and can be very harmful for people suffering from an eating disorder. People will not develop an eating disorder by being exposed to images that glamorise eating disorders, but research shows that such content helps perpetuate the illnesses for people who are already suffering.

“We welcome Instagram’s increase in safety and security teams to protect users from harmful content. However, it should do more to ensure such content cannot be posted, and to direct affected users to sources of support.

“It is important to note that most pro-ana and pro-mia content is posted by people who are themselves suffering from an eating disorder and is not deliberately malicious. They should not be criminalised.”

<BOX OUT> Eliza’s advice

Although in recovery Eliza wants others to benefit from her experience.

“I could not emphasise enough how important it is to reach out to a professional immediately. A doctor, a charity (I’d say BEAT, or Mind or a local charity would also be great) or a mental health service. If they dismiss you or play it down, stress that you really are struggling with trying not to slip, eventually someone will hear you. Also tell a friend or loved one, make sure that someone knows that you’re struggling so they can contact a professional for you, or at least watch out for more slipping.

“For parents/carers, I’d look at the BEAT website. They have fantastic advice for what to do and what not to do, and also just raise an awareness of what their child is going through, but also signpost what services are available to help.There are great support groups for carers too, which is always an option. Also don’t blame yourself if you don’t get it straight away, or if it feels like talking to a brick wall. My dad says: “Don’t be hard on yourself, you’re not talking to someone who has a logical thought pattern anymore when it comes to food and weight. You can’t reason with your child in a way you could before, and that’s okay.”

Eliza continues: “For friends, I’d say eat in front them, make them realise food is normal and that you can have a cake or a meal and not punish yourself. Be there even when they aren’t fun to be around (because low mood is another fun symptom of an eating disorder). Remind them how ‘normal’ life was so great and vibrant, and keep them involved in social activities, because otherwise they will slip away.

If you or someone you know needs more infomation or support regarding this issue contact the helpline 0808 801 0677.

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