‘A chocolate bar every now and then won’t kill me, but not eating a chocolate bar every now and then will strengthen my eating disorder, which in turn will kill me (and nearly did)’
When I was around 12 years old I developed Anorexia Nervosa and became seriously ill in a very short space of time. I won’t go into the nitty gritty details of my story, but the past eight years have been what could only be described as a living hell for myself and my family. It has been a long journey of hospitalisations, close calls, treatment centres, nasogastric tubes, fights, relapse, weight gain, and the list goes on.
I have had periods of doing pretty well, but last year I had a pretty severe relapse and in January ended up in ICU fighting for my life. How I survived, no one really knows, but here I am to tell the tale.
Along with my parents and treatment team, I have worked really hard and have fought tooth and nail against the eating disorder. I have put on almost 25 kilograms, and am managing to eat three meals and four snacks every day, as part of my treatment plan. That probably sounds incredibly simple to most people, but the fact I am not only still alive, but also at a healthy weight, and am back on track with my eating, is nothing short of a miracle for me.
I am not recovered, not by a long shot. Anorexia doesn’t just disappear once a person reaches a healthy weight. In fact the illness seems to dig its heels in further when they reach a healthy weight. This is because they are literally going against everything that the eating disorder wants. While I have a long way to go in terms of mental recovery, I have come so far in the past six months, and probably the past eight years when I think about it. I have conquered a lot of challenges and fears, and continue to fight every second of every day.
There is no set cause of eating disorders, but certain people are predisposed, or susceptible to developing the disorder. A combination of genetic, biological, environmental and circumstantial factors contribute to the development of the illness. It’s a complex intertwining of these factors that determine the predisposition.
However, just because a person is predisposed to developing one, doesn’t mean that they will actually develop an eating disorder. For people who are susceptible to developing eating disorders, they will only actually develop the disorder if they engage in eating disorder behaviours, such as dieting, fasting, compulsive exercising, binging, purging, etc. If they never engage in these behaviours, they won’t actually develop the disorder. Sort of like if a person is allergic to nuts, they won’t actually have an allergic reaction unless they are exposed to the nuts. I guess you could say the people who are susceptible to developing an eating disorder are ‘allergic’ to dieting and other similar behaviours.
The revised version of the food pyramid has made me feel a little uneasy. I totally understand our current health issues and the need for dietary changes for many people in Australia. However, Nutrition Australia seems to have forgotten the large and ever increasing number of people who have, are developing, or will develop, an eating disorder. There are so many people struggling with eating disorders, or disordered eating, and it is significantly fuelled by the current ‘health obsession.’ (When I was hospitalised in 2008, there was only one other patient with an eating disorder on the adolescent ward, and they were only in for a few days. Besides those few days, I was the sole patient with an eating disorder. When I was hospitalised in 2012, there were, around 11 eating disorder patients on the ward).
While there is no set cause of eating disorders, the behaviours are triggers. Cutting out fun foods (or ‘junk foods’ as they are referred to by Nutrition Australia) might help improve some people’s health, but it will also be a detriment to the health of others. The term ‘orthorexia’, while not a diagnosis in the DSM 5, is associated with the obsession of eating only ‘healthy’ foods. It is an issue not only for those diagnosed eating disorders, but also for a large portion of the general population. All of these fad diets, exercise obsessions, and ‘clean eating’ regimes are becoming the norm, and it is (despite popular belief), not actually healthy.
I have worked exceptionally hard at overcoming ‘fear foods’. There was a time in which I couldn’t bring myself to even look at something like chocolate, or pasta, because of the fear that it was bad or would make me gain weight. Although it is still extremely difficult, I am able to enjoy chocolate, and pasta, and many other foods that were once forbidden.
Life needs to be about balance. I understand that Nutrition Australia are not necessarily saying that we should cut out certain food groups altogether, but for people with predispositions to eating disorders, the new changes are very likely to be interpreted in this way. I know that a lot of people will disregard the new pyramid and will continue to eat in the same way that they always have (and quite frankly, the people who disregard it are likely to be the people who desperately need to be more aware it), however many will take the pyramid on board and see it as the be all and end all – particularly young people, and especially young females, who are being brainwashed by this current health obsession.
We have become fearful and associate poor dietary habits, lack of exercise, weight gain, etc with being bad people. We need to get the message out that it’s okay to have balance. In fact we need balance. Not just for our physical health, but also our mental health. We need to be aware of the potential for this new pyramid to be incorrectly interpreted and taken too far. Eating disorders are fatal, and I have absolutely no doubt that they will become more and more prevalent and will destroy the lives of more and more people.
I am finally in a strong enough headspace to know that I need to do what is right for me, and not what society, and the new pyramid is telling us is ‘right’. However, not everyone will have the same experience as myself and they may not be able to rationalise and put things into perspective. I always say that a chocolate bar every now and then won’t kill me, but not eating a chocolate bar every now and then will strengthen my eating disorder, which in turn will kill me (and nearly did).
By no means am I saying that we need to live unhealthy lives. But we do need balance, and to show our society that it’s okay to not be perfect. I don’t really have anything against the message Nutrition Australia is trying to get out, because I definitely agree that there are a lot of people who are not eating in a healthy, balanced way. However, I also believe that it is critical for the message to get out there that restrictive eating, limiting foods, and being too rigid is dangerous. We all need to hear the message that being self-accepting, loving, and kind towards ourselves is crucial in living happy, healthy lives.
I’m never going to be able to cure eating disorders, but I want to do everything I possibly can to raise awareness, support others, and reduce the prevalence of the illness. The food pyramid is somewhat of a good movement to encourage people to start leading healthier lives, however I believe that for a significant number of people, it has the potential to be very harmful.
I hope it will at least start a fresh discussion on eating disorder awareness, prevention, and treatment and true health.
Cleanse your mind, the rest will follow: Transform your health with a media fast
Have you tried the latest health cleanse? It’s SO great. It’ll help you feel better about your body inside and out, and jump-start your healthy choices so you’ll have the motivation to be active and feel A-MA-ZING. THIS cleanse is brand new. None of the celebrity health gurus or fitspiration icons have tried this, and you’ll NEVER hear about it from an actress in US Weekly. You don’t have to drink cayenne pepper juice OR forego solid foods for days and you’ll STILL remove countless toxins from your body. But this time, the toxins are in your mind and they’re just as harmful to your health.
Those mental toxins have built up from years of taking in distorted, profit-driven messages about what it means to have a healthy and fit female body. Whether it’s health and fitness magazines featuring airbrushed celebrities in bikinis with the latest strategies to get “sleek and sexy” in 3 days without ever moving an inch, orfitspiration models with exposed buttocks, breasts and oiled-up abs all over Instagram and Facebook — you’ve likely got a pretty specific image in your mind of what it means to be a “fit” and “healthy” woman.(We’re not even going to show you an example here, because you already have it in your mind.) This is a trending beauty ideal that is parading as a fitness ideal — made to look attainable for any woman willing to put in enough effort, willpower and sacrifice.
But what about the vast majority of women who will never, ever have six-pack abs, jutting hip bones, cellulite-free thighs that don’t touch, and every other appearance ideal that is held up as a sure indicator of fitness — regardless of how many squats they do, how “clean” they eat, how many marathons they run, etc.? This image of what it looks like to be a fit woman is so ingrained in our cultural wallpaper that we are completely desensitized to it. It is so common and unquestioned that it has become natural and invisible. THIS cleanse will start to rid you of that numbness. Read entire article
As a young woman in recovery, seeing others succumb to such behaviours is triggering, distressing and saddening
Three years ago, if you had logged onto my computer and looked at my recent history, you would have discovered I frequently trawled through pro-eating disordered websites. There are communities of males and females of varying ages on sites such as Live Journal, Tumblr, Facebook and MySpace all promoting anorexia as a lifestyle choice, rather than a mental illness.
These websites, filled with “thinspiration” tips and tricks to achieve weight loss, fuelled both my Anorexia and Bulimia and significantly harmed my health. Many of the eating disorder sufferers only support weight loss for others, to receive the same support in return.
After struggling with my body image for years and engaging in eating disordered behaviours, I now eat regularly, do not over-exercise, do not manipulate my diet in any way, do not binge and purge and do not abuse laxatives. I am still in recovery from my eating disorder, but have come a long way in the last six months.
Doing some research on common misconceptions about eating disorders for my recovery-focused blog R is for Recovery (and Rebekah), I stumbled across a webpage called [site name removed]. The website claims not to be a “pro-ana” site, but rather a “pro-skinny site.” Basically the site host uploads pictures of very normal and average sized celebrities and models, labels them as fat and uses insulting and crude language to articulate their hurtful (and in my opinion, downright wrong) opinions.
The site also has a “Starving Tip of the Day”. This website is not unique – there are a number of similar pages on the internet condoning eating disordered behaviour – websites that individuals frequently visit. They are harmful to everyone – not just young women or young men; not just those in recovery from eating disorders; not just parents or teenagers or children – but harmful to all those who are at risk of believing such lies about their bodies and then engaging in eating disordered behaviour.
So, after I contaced Melinda about my concerns around these sites, she posed this question: “How, as a young woman in recovery, do these sites make you feel?” Outraged! I am so angry that these sites exist and that young adults are buying into the lie that being thin should be a high priority. The fact that we disrespect our bodies; the fact that we struggle to comprehend all bodies are different and the fact that we manipulate food to love ourselves more – does it not all seem a little wrong to you?
As a young woman in recovery, seeing others succumb to such behaviours is triggering, distressing and saddening. Why do these websites that encourage restricted diets and treating our bodies in such an awful manner exist? The point is that they shouldn’t. The point is that we need to monitor what our young people are exposed to on the internet. The point is that we should be in favour of healthy bodies, healthy minds, healthy lifestyles – none of which are reflected in an eating disordered lifestyle.
I am blessed to have a wonderful support network – it has been one of the biggest and most useful things for me throughout my recovery. Having people I can be accountable to and be honest with about what was (and occasionally still is) going on in my eating disordered mind has saved me from so much. Once these friends were aware of my frequent visits to eating disordered sites and my eating disordered Facebook account, that was the end of that! Internet sites were blocked, Facebook passwords were changed and I learnt to break some of the bad habits I had been indulging in.
I also attended an outpatient program at RPAH in Sydney, and a day program associated with the hospital. Seeking medical treatment is a must for all eating disordered patients. The day program in particular helped me to normalise my eating patterns and realise I was responsible for my own choices, I could not possibly live the rest of my life entrenched in the eating disorder and I really needed to, as well as deserved to, change and deal with what was going on in my life. And so I’ve done that. Also, as I began to eat regularly and feed my brain and body again, I started to think more clearly – it’s definitely part of the process of ridding oneself of the ‘ED voice’ once and for all.
So my aim today is to create awareness of these sites so that we can take action against them. If you are a parent, please, please monitor your child’s internet history. If you are in recovery from an eating disorder and struggle to avoid opening these types of websites, let someone know. Perhaps ask a friend to block them for you. If you’re courageous enough, block them yourself. If you are a friend or sibling to someone who has struggled with body image and eating disordered behaviour, ask them how they’re going – regularly check in with them and allow them to be accountable to you.
If we can all support each other in this endeavor and choose to steer clear of pro-anorexic and bulimic sites, perhaps it will be one small but significant change to reducing the prevalence of eating disorders – and the terrible harm and suffering they cause.
Rebekah McAlinden, 19, is studying at Mary Andrews College in Sydney. After suffering with body image issues since the age of eight and Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa for the past three years, she now describes herself as “almost recovered!” You can find more of Rebekah’s writing at R is for Recovery (and Rebekah)
Harriet Brown: A Mother’s Plea to Shut the Hunger Sites
…If I could shut down every thinspo Tumblr and blog and site I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’d do it without giving the First Amendment another thought. Because there’s nothing free or authentic about what’s being expressed. Thinspo is not self-expression because it’s not these young women’s true selves that invite emaciation and worship at the altar of jutting hipbones. The longing for extreme thinness, for the self-annhilation of starvation, is not rational. It’s not a choice. It’s the expression of an underlying terror and compulsion that controls a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
The girls who host thinspo Tumblrs and blogs are not merely disordered eaters; they are suffering from eating disorders. How do I know? Because I know the language of eating disorders. I know the rational-sounding rhetoric (“Everyone says it’s better to be thin than fat!”) that masks the extreme anxiety of anorexia. I know that someone can be in the grip of an eating disorder at any weight and long before the signs are obvious to outsiders. I know that once a girl (or boy) falls down the rabbit hole of anorexia, she can’t “choose” to climb back up. She can’t just decide to eat, because eating has become an act fraught with fear and guilt and self-loathing. She can’t acknowledge she’s hungry because if she does, the voice in her head (which may be literal or not) will berate her, excoriate her for hours. She won’t be able to sleep, focus on schoolwork, think about anything but her own worthlessness and fear….
Every one of those girls and young women writing is someone’s daughter. Every one of them is locked in a prison she can’t get out of, in the grip of an illness that can’t be reasoned with or rationalized. In their postings of insect-like women and strategies for resisting hunger, they’re crying out for help. They’re longing to eat even as they can’t bring themselves to do it. Read full story
If you are engaging in disordered eating or think you have an eating disorder and need help, contact:
As if there’s not already enough girls whose lives are being destroyed through eating disorders, the on-line UK seller Zazzle.co is doing its bit to make even more girls sicker and to spread further suffering.
This t.shirt (left) is inspired by a motto uttered by model Kate Moss “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”. It is marketed to children through a line of “size-zero slogan” products created by US based label Teen Modelling. Even babies are expected to promote the food-is-bad ideology.
‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ is used as ‘thinspiration’ for girls through pro-anorexia websites. It is employed to strengthen the resolve of a sufferer, to help them exercise willpower and self-control in their quest for ultra-thinness.
Zazzle refuses to take any responsibility, stating: “Zazzle is a custom products platform, it enables all users to create their own products that feature their own content. In this way, Zazzle is an outlet for users to express their personal opinions and viewpoints.”
As long as Zazzle makes money hosting these tees with their killer slogans, that’s the main thing. Profits over the wellbeing and health of girls.
One in 100 girls in Australia suffers anorexia. Anorexia Nervosa is the third most common chronic illness for adolescent girls in this country.
Yet too many companies seem to want to hasten them to an early grave.
Melissa is another to write to Lovable to complain about its current Jennifer Hawkins ad campaign. What she has written is so important that I’m reprinting it from the Collective Shout website, where she posted her letter yesterday. How much more evidence does Lovable need that its current campaign is harmful and its claims to want to change the cultural on body image just don’t stand up?
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