Anorexia Fight Moves To Web

There are hundreds of pro-anorexia Web sites that don't teach how to combat eating orders, but rather how to maintain them.

For much of the past 20 years, Stefanie, who does not wish to reveal her last name, has defined her days in numbers — always counting the number of calories she eats in a day.

"Chewing gum, I have about four sticks a day, that has five calories in it," she tells The Early Show correspondent Melinda Murphy. Stefanie says the total calories she consumes a day are 500. When she consumes 600 calories, she said she feels guilty.

Another number that concerns her is the number on the scale.

"I thought; You know what? I'll be happy if I get down to 135. I'm 5-7, that's normal. I saw pictures of myself. My cheeks were huge. So then I got down to where I am now. I wear a size 0 now."

Her current weight is 105. What is her goal weight? "I'll know when I get there," she answers.

Stefanie is well aware she suffers from an eating disorder, anorexia, and that it's dangerous not only for her but for her four children. Stefanie is a single mother.

"That's one of the reasons why I cry every day," she says. "I can't help it. It's a disease. I mean, I might as well have cancer, because I could die any time."

Stefanie wouldn't allow CBS News cameras to show her children because of something else she does. She helps run a controversial Web site for anorexics, and she gets hate mail because of it.

"We get, 'You should die.' 'Eat a frickin' sandwich.' I don't know why people hate us that much," she says. "We don't hurt anybody."

Critics disagree. They say such pro-anorexia or "pro-ana" sites with their pictures and shared stories promote the eating disorder. But Stefanie doesn't see it that way.

"It's a shoulder to cry on. We're there to listen," she says. "We want people who go to that site who have an eating disorder to know that we've been through that, or we're going through it."

Dr. Pat Santucci says, "It's not so much the existence of the Web site, per se. It's the portrayal and misinformation."

Santucci runs a national organization helping those with eating disorders. She's alarmed by pro-ana sites and the secrets they share.

"That's what the scary part is: How to fool your doctor. How to fudge your weight. How to lose more weight. What to eat so you won't feel hungry. How to vomit," Santucci says. "All the trade secrets are exchanged. It helps them stay in the anorexia."

Among the sites she considers dangerous is one that advocates a total of 185 calories for the day. That is why her group is trying to get various servers to shut down the pro-ana sites.

"We educate them about eating disorders," Santucci says. "Then they make up that decision — is this really a destructive Web site? — and they decide whether they want to take it off or not."

There are also sites aimed at helping anorexics recover. But Stefanie says they didn't help her.

"I felt worse about myself," she says. "I felt like a freak. I'm not normal. I mean they're lucky because they got over it. They survived it. And that doesn't leave me anything."

On pro-ana sites, Stefanie feels she's found camaraderie, but one that may prove deadly as she continues to log on and lose weight.

She says she likes to think she will recover. "But it's not going to happen tomorrow."

Murphy also spoke with several recovering anorexics who have also visited the sites. Among them, one compared the pro-ana sites to an addictive cult. Another said pro-ana sites actually helped her recover by showing her what she didn't want to be.

Today, Stefanie is still very much in the throes of the disease. Family members do know about it, but in the end, it's up to Stephanie to want to recover.

For more information on eating disorders and for recovery resources please visit: www.anad.org.
  • Tatiana Morales

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