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Becoming 'the Best Anorexic Ever'

Battle With Food
By
WebMD Feature

Nov. 12, 2001 -- Wendy, 22, has struggled with anorexia for more than a decade but has no immediate desire to recover from the condition that could one day kill her. Though she says she wouldn't wish the eating disorder on anyone, Wendy adds that "for myself and many others, there's a need to hold onto it."

"I didn't choose to have an eating disorder when I was 10 years old, but after 12 years of this, it is all I know and it is what I'm used to," Wendy wrote in a letter to WebMD. "I have been in outpatient therapy for six years, and have been hospitalized for organ failure. I know what I am doing. ... No, I don't plan on staying this way for the rest of my life, but for now, it is what I'm choosing. And it is what many others are choosing."

Wendy was one of several young women who wrote to WebMD recently in defense of pro-anorexia Internet sites and chat rooms. Many of the web sites have since been shut down by servers like Yahoo! in the wake of a flood of news stories and complaints from groups fighting eating disorders.

"I know you're probably jumping for joy," CZ wrote WebMD. "You and thousands of other reporters have taken down the enemy. Do you have no empathy? Now I have no support. It wasn't just about starving, achieving our goals, and so on. We gave support."

'It Becomes a Friend'

Both Wendy and CZ said the intent of the pro-anorexia sites is not to promote eating disorders in hopes of recruiting converts. Their comments suggest that they consider the Internet "clubs" they frequent to be exclusive sororities where they can express their feelings without being judged. Australian researcher Megan Warin says a sense of community and belonging is strong among anorexics and helps explain why treating the condition is so difficult.

Warin spent more than three years talking to anorexics in an effort to learn more about the day-to-day social effects of the disease. She says one of her most surprising findings is that anorexics frequently view their eating disorders as "empowering" rather than seeing them as debilitating psychiatric illnesses.

"The people I talked to described the early phases of anorexia as being quite seductive," says Warin. "People often don't want to give up their eating disorders. They enter into a relationship with anorexia and it becomes a way of coping. Many sufferers personify it, and even give it a name. It becomes a friend, the enemy in disguise, an abusive lover, someone they can rely on."

Figures suggest that approximately 8 million people in the U.S. have eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia, and 7 million of them are women. The overwhelming majority of sufferers develop the disorders in their teens and early 20s.

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