Many think anorexia is a physical problem. Some know it’s a mental problem. Only a few suspect it’s a spiritual problem.
One of the most disturbing aspects of eating disorders is the pseudo-religious character that it ends up taking for many people. Let’s take for example (since it’s my story) someone who has anorexia. You start by being anorexic; then you think it’s not an illness but just another lifestyle among many; then you decide it’s in fact the best one and become pro-ana; eventually, you think it’s your way, your truth, your life, and therefore your religion.
Just as satanic masses take elements from the real Mass and twist them in a sacrilegious way, the pro-ana religion take elements from Christianity and twist them to create a death cult.
Goddess Ana (anorexia) and goddess Mia (bulimia). In principle they’re personifications of the different disorders and you’re not supposed to actually believe in their existence as entities. However, people pray to them and, above all, ask them for forgiveness when they “sin” (see below). You can often read things like “forgive me, Ana, I’ve failed you” or “Ana is just and unsparing, Mia is merciful and benevolent” (because when you’ve “sinned” you can turn to her, if you get me).
Why do these personifications end up being so real? Because they’re real. Behind the masks, these goddesses are just satan. He’s the one who receives that worship. That’s why an anorexic can only be killing her body, but a pro-ana is killing her soul too.
And it’s not enough to call the goddess Ana Jesus, simply swapping the names. If you do the works of the goddess Ana, it doesn’t matter who you’re offering them to. As I’ve highlighted before, your intention is not the only difference (something that should be taken into account more in religious circles).
The declaration of the basic principles of this faith. This is the most widespread one:
I believe in control, the only force mighty enough to bring order in the chaos that is my world. One of the key lies the ED tells us is that we have self-control, that we’re choosing, that we’re resisting food. But we’re its slaves, it controls us, we lose our freedom because we get further and further away from the truth about who we’re called to be.
I believe that I am the most vile, worthless an useless person ever have to existed on this planet, and that I am totally unworthy of anyone’s time and attention. False humility, and double sin. On the one hand you despise yourself, and on the other one you keep thinking you’re better than the rest of the world, as we shall see.
I believe in oughts, musts and shoulds, as unbreakable laws to determine my daily behavior. From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, everything is marked by obsessive rules and rituals. Grams, calories, hours and minutes of exercise, hiding your food in specific places, eating what you do eat following patterns, and then an endless number of thins that can straightaway be related to an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Everything is rigid, everything must be measured, a minimal alteration makes you feel like all is lost.
I believe in perfection and strive to attain it. Perfection means thinness. That’s why, when I took anorexia into Catholicism, I could make up an interpretation of the Bible exchanging these concepts.
I BELIEVE IN SALVATION THROUGH STARVATION
I believe in calorie counters as the inspired word of god, and memorize them accordingly.
I believe in bathroom scales as an indicator of my daily successes and failures. Yes, that number determines everything. Every day. It’s what decides whether you’ll be happy or sad, and it you have to punish yourself more, to restrict even more.
I believe in hell, cause sometimes I think I live in it. But that hell is mostly created by others, those who try to force you to eat, to go to the hospital, to gain weight. The constant arguing, the unceasing lies. It can also be a hell when you never seem to achieve your goals, see your weaknesses and that you’re always failing, never being satisfied with where you are… It wasn’t my case.
I believe in a wholly black an withe world, the losing of weight, recrimination for sins, the elongation of the body and a life ever fasting. (note the game word between life everlasting and life ever fasting).
The Ten Commandments
1) If you aren’t thin, you aren’t attractive. Very important when you have low self-esteem regarding your beauty or other qualities. You might not be the prettiest, the most popular or the most intelligent, but if you’re the thinnest, what else do you want?
2) Being thin is more important than being healthy. That’s why it doesn’t work to tell a pro-ana all the consequences of her illness, be it osteoporosis, heart failure, your body eating itself because it doesn’t have nutrients… As if they didn’t knew.
3) You must do anything to make yourself look thinner. Anything. No matter the consequences around you, how much you hurt the people who love you most. You can’t let them get in your way.
4) THOU SHALL NOT EAT WITHOUT FEELING GUILTY.
5) Thou shall not eat fattening food without punishing oneself afterwards.
6) Thou shall count calories and restrict intake accordingly.
7) What the scale says is the most important thing.
8) Losing weight is good. Gaining weight is bad.
9) You can never be too thin. And this is a tricky one. For example, I was at my goal weight (a pathetic bmi of 15) and I didn’t want to lose more weight. Buuut… what if in the future for some circumstance I had to eat more, or couldn’t work out, or something unexpected happened? I needed to have a margin! So it wasn’t a big deal if I went a little lower “just in case”. That’s how I got to a bmi of 13.
10) Being thin and not eating are signs of true will power and success. Anorexia is a morality, in the sense that what you do or don’t do in order to be thin determines whether you’re good or bad, whether you’ve succeed or failed. That’s why moral values are attached to food too. Just as our society does: food is seen as good or bad, and people say they’ve been good or bad depending on what they’ve eaten.
Those who have reached the highest summits of perfection, that is, of thinness: the thinspirations. Actresses and models are the healthiest among them, and then we have girls from the internet with real or fake pictures showing all their bones. The purpose of all those pictures is to look at them when we’re “tempted” to give in so we remember that, if we do, we’ll never be like them, and therefore get motivation to keep doing what Ana tells us.
Unfortunately, photos of thinspiration celebrities aren’t only found at pro-ana sites, but everywhere, and they like to boast about their diet and exercise “secrets” that people need to follow to be like them. And those of non-celebrities have now found a privileged channel at instagram, where reading the comments is scary: for each one casting doubt on their health, there are several ones admiring their bodies and telling them they’re perfect. Again, I’m not talking about declared pro-ana pages (I’ve never thought those are the real problem), but about allegedly normal people. This is the true danger.
Mainly as short prayers, mantras you memorize and repeat to resist temptations, such as “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” (Kate Moss, one of the thinspos). But there are whole prayers, that once more, have been composed by taking Christian prayers and “adapting” them to the new cult.
For example, this one —although it’s not acknowledged at any of the pages where it’s found— clearly follows the structure of Psalm 23 (especially if you read the KJV version, popular among Protestants):
Strict is my diet. I must not want. (The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.)
It maketh me to lie down at night hungry. It leadeth me past the confectioners. (He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.)
It trieth my willpower. It leadeth me in the paths of alteration for my figure’s sake. (He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.)
Yea, though I walk through the aisles of the pastry department, I will buy no sweet rolls for they are fattening. The cakes and the pies, they tempt me. (Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.)
Before me is a table set with green beans and lettuce. I filleth my stomach with liquids, My day’s quota runneth over. (Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.)
Surely calorie and weight charts will follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the fear of the scales forever. (Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.)
There are also versions of other famous prayers as the Our Father, as well as prayers that can’t be related to any specific one, but that exude Christian inspiration (of petition, of forgiveness, of thanksgiving). This is not intended to be a pro-ana catalog so I won’t copy more prayers. I just want you to understand how serious the diabolical side of anorexia is.
Sin means, principally, eating more than you’re allowed (which is very little). This kind of language has flat-out spread across society, and now we often have to listen how someone says a food is “tempting them”, or how low-calorie versions are promoted as “guilt-free”.
Other sins are failing to fulfill the rest of your obligations, such as working out, or revealing the secret to other people. The greatest sin is recovery, which is equal to apostasy, and it’s seen as weakness, as not having been able to fulfill the exigences of anorexia and having given in to the pleasures of food. It deserves disgust and contempt. And that’s how the voice in my head used to make me feel at the beginning of my recovery.
An obvious one, since we’re denying ourselves up to our basic needs for an ideal. We are willing to lose everything in our lives, and even our lives, in the pursuit of perfection. This is the aspect that can get mixed up with real religion most easily, and therefore every religious person should be very careful with how they explain sacrifice and mortification.
In a secular society that otherwise rejects any idea of sacrifice and promotes an immoderate surrender to pleasure, this kind of mortification is however reverenced. It’s not rare that an anorexic person, when she rejects a yummy food, has to listen many times: “I’d like to have your willpower”. And since what a pro-ana is most proud of is her discipline and self-control. it’s a way to add fuel to that destructive fire.
An anorexic life is lonely. You may have family and friends, but you can’t share with them the most important part of your life, what occupies your thoughts all day long, the meaning of your existence. At online groups, tips to stop eating —the only thing the media seems to care about— are not at all what people are looking for most. What they’re looking for is people who understand them and console them in the darkness.
And this might be the only good thing of all this. Because if someone from the community recovers, even if she’s going to be called weak and a traitor, perhaps her example makes someone think.
Being pro-ana is feeling like you’re part of a privileged little group of people who don’t fall into the worldly pleasures of food. Pro-ana and pro-mia girls are princesses; the rest, pigs. There’s a attitude of elitism and playing the victim: “no one understands us”, “this isn’t for everyone”, etc. They feel persecuted by those who want them to gain weight, probably because they’re jealous of them or because they hate them and want to make them normal —fat— as everyone else.
And there are levels inside the same group. They will say that they all support each other. Bullshit. Almost everyone mocks the “wannabes”, those that want to be pro-ana but treat it more like a diet or a fad. Many anorexics despise bulimics because of their “lack of control”. And I can assure you that, when you are able to reach and maintain your goal weight and see that most of the others can’t, you feel like a legend. After all, now you’re called a queen.
What's lacking: Love
This “religion” has taken and twisted elements from Christianity, but it has removed the main one: Love. True perfection, commandments, sense of sin, sacrifice, etc., can only be grasped when they’re rooted in Love. I think people don’t get these concepts anymore because they don’t let themselves be loved to the extreme. The devil doesn’t have to do anything else with those people.
The pro-anas, however, display a natural attraction towards them, and they’re not afraid of extremes. The devil then separates these qualities from Love, and everything gets disordered (as in, eating disorders), throwing the person into a spiral of desperate self-destruction.
Let’s bring back the right order: God-soul-body. First, we let God —Love— rule over our soul. Then, we let our soul rule over our body imitating how God reigns. Without the first step, the second either gets inverted for most people (the body ruling over the soul), or becomes a despotic, mad, sickening reign, where the real sovereign is not the person who thinks she’s in control, but the “goddess Ana”.