Who Are Ana and Mia?

You may have heard about Ana and Mia. They’ve been around in the media for a while now and are talked about on internet forums, in magazines and newspapers, on the television and in a number of different talk shows. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Ana and Mia are people – but that’s not the case. They are actually short pet-names that are used by sufferers of eating disorders all over the world in an attempt to talk about their eating disorder without others knowing what they’re talking about – Ana is anorexia and Mia is bulimia.

Both Ana and Mia have armies of followers all over the world, with tens of thousands of members. Followers also wear bracelets made from thin twine or thread so that other followers can identify each other – red bracelets are for Ana followers and blue or purple bracelets are for Mia followers.

The terms Ana and Mia were both come up with so that followers could candidly talk about their eating disorders without being discovered by their friends and family. A number of online communities are accessed by these individuals on a daily basis, and these are referred to as pro-ana or pro-mia depending on which disorder the individual is suffering from. Pro-ana organizations differ massively – some organizations say that their website or forum is simply a place for anorexia sufferers to talk candidly without judgment, whereas other organizations post pictures of ‘thinspiration’ and state that anorexia is a lifestyle choice that should be respected rather than a serious mental illness.

Thinspiration on these sites can come in many forms, but usually there are images of very thin models or celebrities, images of the girls or boys themselves showing their bones through their skin, lists of ‘thin tips’ whereby users share tips on how to avoid food, how to eat and what to eat and how many calories per day you should be consuming and information on how to avoid trips to the doctor’s office.

The sites often endorse anorexia and bulimia as being desirable – in fact, a 2010 survey showed that 84% and 64% respectively of these sites spoke about eating disorders as though they were a desirable thing to have. Individuals visiting the sites often coach each other on weight loss or sometimes fast together to show companionship. Individuals will also share ideas on how to acceptably refuse food – one such way to do this is to become a vegan, and research has shown that veganism is far more prevalent amongst the eating-disordered than the ‘normal’ population. These websites are also hugely damaging to the eating-disordered individual – over 95% of anorexics or bulimics learn new purging and weight loss tips when they visit these websites and nearly 50% of recovering patients learnt new techniques for weight loss and hiding their weight loss whilst visiting the sites.

Both anorexia and bulimia can be incredibly damaging to any individual suffering with either disorder. Anorexia in particular can be fatal and an alarming number of sufferers will never fully recover. Bulimia can cause a number of severe side effects, such as rotting teeth and an inability to eat without vomiting, whilst anorexia can cause side effects including infertility, worn down muscle tissue and osteoporosis. Sufferers of eating disorders are also more likely to deal with illnesses commonly associated with old age, such as arthritis, thinning hair and bruising very easily.

If you suspect a friend or family member is following Ana or Mia or both, try to speak to them about their eating habits. Although eating disorders may seem ‘trendy’ they are actually very serious and can cause death, so let them know that help is out there for them.