DOI: 10.1002/capr.12744 ISSN: 1473-3145

Exploring experiences of online ‘pro‐ana’ networks: An interpretative phenomenological analysis approach

Jessica Sharman, Alison Rolfe, Tara Morrey
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Applied Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology



Online pro‐ana communities encourage, rather than denounce, eating disorder (ED) behaviours. Most research analyses online pro‐ana content. Fewer studies have interviewed bloggers directly. To the authors' knowledge, no previous studies have analysed both posts and interview data from pro‐ana bloggers. This study aimed to explore bloggers' experiences of online pro‐ana communities, analysing posts and interview data.


Five pro‐ana bloggers participated in semi‐structured interviews over Skype or Telegram. Bloggers' posts and interview data were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis, a qualitative method of analysis that emphasises the detailed exploration of participants' individual experiences and how they make sense of these experiences.


Five superordinate themes were identified: ambivalence towards pro‐ana; social support; ‘Ana’ way of life; body/weight desperation; and hidden ED identity. Participants reported hiding their pro‐ana blog, for fear of judgement from offline others. In contrast, participants experienced online pro‐ana communities as a source of understanding, connection and solidarity that counteracted stigma experienced in the offline world. All participants idealised ‘Ana’ (anorexia), either as an admirable lifestyle or as the idealised, personification of anorexia, named ‘Ana’. Simultaneously, participants experienced pro‐ana communities as deceptive and/or harmful, demonstrating ambivalence towards pro‐ana.


Findings suggest that community and shared understanding are important to individuals accessing pro‐ana content. Therapists may explore this further with clients, alongside any ambivalence towards pro‐ana and/or alternative supportive environments, such as online support groups. This may reduce isolation, without idealising ED behaviours. Future research could explore bloggers' relationships with the personified ‘Ana’ and experiences of non‐Western and male users.

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