‘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
Following my Sunday Herald Sun column critical of ‘The Biggest Loser’ last week , I heard from a number of women in recovery from eating disorders, who wrote about the negative impact the series had on them – including Melbourne woman Belinda Davis, 38, who was happy for me to share her story here.
It all began when I was about 10-years-old. Having footage beamed into our lounge rooms every night of starving Ethiopian children just filled me with immense guilt. I would tell my mother that I would eat less so that those kids could have my share It was probably then that I developed unusual eating habits and thoughts around food.
In my 20’s I tried every bizarre new diet on the market plus a few I made up myself. There would be periods of my life that weren’t heavily dominated by the eating disorder but it was always there, lingering, waiting. That was until I was 31 and I longed for the voice to return just that little bit stronger, just to help me shed those few kilos. The eating disorder voices (demands) are strong, powerful and destructive, especially when looking for control in one’s life.
Before I knew it, this “voice” had taken over my life. Of course, there are many reasons behind an eating disorder but those childhood feelings of guilt still remain. I was severely emaciated and weighed everything before I even thought of consuming it.
With the support of great people, including an amazing clinical psychologist and a dietician who supported me daily in the initial stages of recovery, I have been able to recover. It was a long road, my general health was poor. Eating disorders are not glamourous in the slightest. Having ECGs, Dexa scans (for bone density) and regular blood tests are not what one thinks of when dreaming of “thinness”.
Since my recovery I lost my fiancé to suicide (August 2009) which lead to nervous breakdowns that landed me in hospital. But thankfully, though I was vulnerable, anorexia didn’t rear its ugly head again this time. Fortunately, I had learned that dieting didn’t bring me happiness, contentment or a life I wanted.
The Biggest Loser
I still recall the very first season. It was 2006, during the peak of my anorexia.
I was thrilled with the motivation it gave me to exercise after the episode. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one. In the beginning, my partner and I would see a number of people heading out of their houses for a brisk evening walk or jog. I thought this was a good thing. As the show continued, I saw the obsession with calorie counting, specific diets and of course, the Sunday nail biter, “the weigh in”. I wished I could lose as much as them. I couldn’t.
As the years went by, the show got worse, more extreme. Today, I cannot watch it for I learned (the hard way) how to manage a healthy weight. And I knew the show would set me back. All I see in the commercials is contestants being belittled, put down, yelled at, being sick, crying and with forlorn expressions.
The saddest part is to think that this show is aired in a very family friendly time slot. Just trying to imagine how many families sit down to watch this program together makes me hang my head in shame. What have we become? I really do feel for all those kids out there that are subject to this propaganda. The messages they must be learning could be not only damaging but life threatening. Let’s think about it (from the mind of our inner child):
It is ok if people in authority yell at me and call me names. It does make me feel bad about myself but they are “trainers” so they must be “right”.
If I am thin I am worthy of a relationship (think back to the “Singles” series that aired last year).
People cheer and get excited when I lose weight, it must be VERY important (and being ‘big’ must be VERY bad).
I am defined by my size (which is only good if I look like someone who works out at the gym for a living).
I now associate the word “loser” with someone who is bad (fat, lazy, greedy etc).
Fat shaming, the obesity ‘epidemic’ and extreme over correction is no way to control weight.
Why, as a society, can we not appreciate good deeds, intelligence, kindness and respect? It all comes down to what we/they can sell. I can only be happy that I am now in a fairly strong recovery because programs that embrace unhealthy under- eating and obsessional behaviour only serve as a trigger.
I cannot believe that this type of show is allowed on the air. With a failing public health system, it shocks me to see that people are being pushed to follow this extremism. Show me a study that says losing more than 500g per week is healthy or a study that says morbidly obese people should be expected to work out in a gym? I was so worried that “Big Kev” was going to have a heart attack.
I now know what a healthy diet consists of, how healthy weight loss works and the importance of fitness appropriate exercise. The Biggest Loser doesn’t promote any of this.
REALITY weight-loss show The Biggest Loser claims to be all about health – leading a new “social movement” against the “obesity crisis”.
But many authorities – and those suffering from disordered eating – say it actually contributes to bad health.
Parading and humiliating obese people, dangerously rapid weight loss, severe calorie restriction, pre weigh-in dehydration and punishing exercise do not develop healthy patterns for long-term health.
Whenever the series returns, Melbourne woman Jodi, 24, (who asked her surname not be used) avoids TV.
Seeing the show, or even ads for it, can trigger harmful eating patterns.
As a recovering binge and restrict eater, and accredited exercise scientist, Jodi says just hearing about TBL makes her feel “sad, pathetic, not good enough”.
“My logical self knows that I’m not overweight or obese, but my eating disorder tells me I am,” Jodi says.
“Contestants receive so much praise and recognition for their weight loss, which contributes to me linking my self-worth with my weight.
“It makes me aware that other people notice my weight and might judge me on it.
This makes it harder for Jodi to trust her treatment team, which encourages her to take small steps, eat mindfully and exercise in a healthy way.
Hearing trainers screaming at contestants that they are just weak undermines professional advice.
“I’m concerned as this is being passed onto the fitness industry, where trainers now think it’s OK to train clients at those same intensities.”
The show can also scare people off exercise. Researchers in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation found that watching a short video of The Biggest Loser fuelled negative attitudes toward exercise.
“People are screaming and crying and throwing up, and if you’re not a regular exerciser you might think this is what exercise is – that it’s this horrible experience where you have to push yourself to the limits, which is completely wrong,” says Tanya Berry, Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity Promotion.
Authorities say that because the only measure of success is scales, the show is purely about weight-loss not about overall health. The fact that contestants can’t even cover their bodies in a lightweight top during the weigh-in shows TBL is about sadistic voyeurism – and fuelling a $414 million weight-loss industry.
Eating disorder professionals say the show makes their work harder, as clients believe what they see on the show is realistic in daily life. Sarah McMahon, co-director of BodyMatters Australasia, says there is no evidence to support long-term sustained weight loss and behavioural change in most contestants.
“These clients are typically young and have poor media literacy and limited education about exercise and physiology,” she says.
“It makes a humiliating public spectacle of them under the guise of ‘self- improvement’. They will actively participate in their own persecution because the dream of being thin has been sold so convincingly”.
Dr Rick Kausman, Director of The Butterfly Foundation and author of best-selling If Not Dieting, Then What?’, says if you wanted to make a show that helped people be healthy, you’d do the opposite of TBL.
“Instead of shaming you would use compassion.
Research shows self-compassion helps us take care of ourselves much better than self-criticism.
Instead of a focus on weight, small meaningful changes in behaviour are much more likely to be sustained.”
“Rather than inspire people to make change, the show is more likely to make people mentally and physically unhealthy.
“Stigma around weight acts as a barrier for people seeking health care.
“Studies shown that patients are less likely to see their doctor for regular check-ups for fear of being told off about their weight.” he says.
“This is a disaster for preventative health”.
If we truly cared about helping people be healthy, we’d take this manipulative and highly emotional propaganda off-air immediately.
‘I was never as happy or as sure of myself after that. It was just too big of a let-down, because it wasn’t a rejection from a high school bully, it was a rejection from ‘the experts’, from people with professional opinion, and it was a closing of doors in my face from a glamorous and revered industry’
Thank you for bringing the Dolly Model Reboot to my attention. I am disgusted and appalled. I’m sure you are already aware of the massive damage it can do. The fact that they have brought it back bothers me so much I wanted to share my story with you.
I was 15 when my mum entered me into the Dolly Model Competition. She told me it was to help me with my self-esteem which, at the time, was shockingly low. She said I was so beautiful there was no way I wouldn’t win. A mother’s naivety.
At first I was horrified because I had no respect for fashion models. I told mum that if I won, no one would ever respect me. I wanted more than to be a pretty face. I wanted to be a writer.
But she said, “What better way to get you noticed than to have everyone see your beautiful face?”
And it occurred to me that I would like to win.
I was bullied badly at school, long before I entered the competition. I had freckles and a flat chest and I was terribly shy, I wasn’t tall but I was very thin. You see, I barely ate. And I did think I had a pretty face. I’m part Native American, so I have very white skin with Indian eyes. I felt like it made me stand out.
I began to fantasise about winning the competition and not telling anybody, so they would all discover it when they saw the magazines and be sorry that they bullied me.
Of course, I didn’t win. I didn’t even make semi -finals, or get featured on the collage of entrants in the magazine. And I was crushed because I didn’t know why. The girl that won was pretty, but I just couldn’t see how I was different, or what made her, or all the other girls ‘better’ than me.
And I think the thing that is so painful is that they aren’t really better. They are all beautiful for different reasons, and for whatever reason they didn’t like the look of me.
But none of the entrants ever got to find out what was ‘wrong with us’. That’s what hurt the most. Not knowing why. All we got was the silent rejection of never having been called and knowing that for some reason we could never be told, we weren’t model pretty.
And because that was the whole point of the magazine’s message, that ‘successful’ was ‘pretty’ and ‘model’ was ‘most desired’, I started thinking that I would never really be successful because I wasn’t good enough, and that no matter how hard I worked, no one would ever pick me because I wasn’t pretty enough. The cold and silent rejection stung, and reinforced the message that I was not good enough, and that my bullies were right to pick on me.
It made me feel so worthless.
So 11 years later, after two sexually abusive ex-boyfriends, an eating disorder, an anxiety disorder that I’m still trying to control, and three suicide attempts, I have finally learned the value of myself and my life, and have clawed back some semblance of self-respect.
And I don’t blame the Dolly Model Competition for all of these things, but I do recognise it as a catalyst, and I know I was never as happy or as sure of myself after that. It was just too big of a let-down, because it wasn’t a rejection from a high school bully, it was a rejection from ‘the experts’, from people with professional opinion, and it was a closing of doors in my face from a glamorous and revered industry.
Teenage girls just are not equipped to deal with the conflicting messages, and they are not equipped to deal with damaging competition and rejection.
If I knew what I know now, I would never have accepted the competition in the first place. If people had been less fixated on my looks and more on my talents and interests, I might not have accepted a boyfriend that hurt me, I might not have tried to starve myself, I might not have tried to die.
Girls are worth more than how they look, and I cannot accept that, with teens feeling the way they do, magazines like Dolly are willing to exploit them.
The Dolly Model Competition is bad news. They have enough girls clamouring for stardom in the industry, without bringing the rest of us into it.
This month at Melbourne Westfield Fountain Gate, Elodie Russell beat 500 other teens to be named Victorian state finalist in the new Dolly Model Search.
The Geelong student and 500 other girls competed in the model search resurrected after 10 years.
Elodie is 14. But girls as young as 13 can enter. The winner will receive a modelling contract, fashion shoot and cover shoot for Dolly, and be a “Dolly ambassador.”
The would-be models, many just in high school, are told they can be the next Miranda Kerr. The month’s Dolly has the Victoria Secret model in a red dress with words and arrow: ‘This could be you!’
Kerr is touted as an “inspiration” for young girls. (I’m not sure it’s just girls who find online images of Kerr semi-naked inspiring).
I asked editor Tiffany Dunk why the original search was shut down. She said: “I understand it was over concerns about negative body imaging”.
Things are even worse now. In an age of rampant body hatred and eating disorders, the timing seems off. In a video of the scouting session in Sydney, girls are asked why Kerr is an inspiration. “She’s got a great body!” is one of a number of similar responses.
Which shows us, no matter how many times words like “role model” and “inspiration” are thrown around, it’s still all about bodies. Even now girls will be comparing themselves to Elodie and thinking they are just not good enough.
Body image and eating disorder specialists I spoke to are concerned about the ability of a 13- year-old to navigate the world of modelling. Why is Dolly including such young girls when globally there is a move away from younger models?
In 2005 there was a storm over having a 12-year-old as the face of Gold Coast Fashion Week. Three years later Australian Fashion Week organisers bowed to pressure and dropped a 14- year-year-old Polish girl as the face of the event.
Australia’s Body Image Code of Conduct recommends only using those over 16 to model adult clothes or work or model in fashion shows targeting an adult audience.
The idea that 13 or 14 is too young to model is often met with “But Miranda Kerr started at that age and she’s doing great!”
But how many girls fell by the wayside, how many were damaged due to the harmful consequences of internalizing the message that their value as a person is in how others view and judge their bodies?
The revamped comp has a special spin. “Become a Model Citizen”. Dolly wants “more than a pretty face”, it wants a “great role model for Dolly readers.” It wants girls to “Have fun, don’t let looks rule your life!” (at the same time Chadwick’s judge lists ‘looks” first in what he’s seeking).
Dolly has enlisted the help of The Butterfly Foundation. They’ve prepared “an awesome body image tip sheet” and will also conduct a workshop with finalists. Dolly also says it will have strict rules on how its winner can be used.
But while I support Butterfly’s goals, I’m not sure telling yourself to be beautiful on the inside and the rest is enough to deal with a message dominant in the modelling and fashion industries that you have to be hot to matter.
Thrusting any girl into an industry where they are taught that what matters most is that they fit some cookie-cutter mould of what women should look like, is troubling.
Jess Hart, Dolly’s 1998 model search winner, posed with Jen Hawkins on a 2010 Grazia cover last year headed: “Jen & Jess: how to get their $5M bodies!”
Hart told Grazia she gets “super strict about her diet” prior to a photoshoot.
It is difficult to see how a Dolly Model search winner will deviate from the standard beauty ideal.
It would be one thing to pluck a girl out of a crowd and offer her a contract. But Dolly (with the apparent support of Butterfly) is enabling competition between teen girls on the basis (primarily) of physical appearance.
Dunk says readers want a “relatable teen role model.” “We have endless research that girls respond best to seeing “someone like me” in the media,” she told me.
But couldn’t Dolly give readers a great role model outside a competitive appearance-focussed event in which girls are compared and judged and learn life is just one big beauty pageant?
What about a role model who is an awesome athlete, or musician, or campaigner against violence against women? A teen anti-bullying ‘hero’ writing advice columns – ‘someone like me’ doing amazing things in the world.
It seems to me girls who are truly role models for other girls would be the least likely to enter, because their goals in life are beyond physical appearance. So the true role models may never be discovered.
Rather than introduce them to an industry which glorifies the cult of celebrity and fashion – and contributes to body image despair – why not foster more meaningful values and aspirations in girls? Now that would be inspiring.
Dolly continues to promote appearance over substance
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:
Because children don’t already feel bad about themselves enough, there’s a new book just about to be released titled Maggie Goes On a Diet. I asked Collective Shout colleague, psychotherapist and managing director of BodyMatters Australasia Lydia Jade Turner, for her views.
Written by self-proclaimed “obesity expert” Paul M. Kramer, Maggie Goes On a Diet tells the story of an ‘overweight’ teenage girl who goes from chubby-loser status to become the soccer star at her school, following significant weight loss. The cover depicts a fat child seeing a skinnier version of herself reflected in the mirror.
Yesterday in The Punch, journalist Lucy Kippist praised the book which encourages dieting for girls as young as four.
Kippist argued that widespread criticism of the book was misplaced. Pushing aside concerns about eating disorders and other negative consequences of dieting, she attempted to legitimize the story by citing the statistic that one in four Australian children are obese.
Kippist described the “courage” Kramer had given the central character Maggie to “make changes in her life” and be “rewarded” for them, She ticked off a further benefit to Maggie’s weight loss: avoiding teasing by her classmates.
As a clinician who specialises in eating disorders, I have seen the damage that diets do to children who are labelled ‘obese,’ and what happens to those children when they are grown up.
The typical presentation is anything but one of good health – whatever their size. When we get children to focus on weight loss as a goal – however well intended this may be – we are putting them at significant risk of developing food and body preoccupation, weight cycling, reduced self-esteem, mood disorders, eating disorders, and other health detriments.
Any parent concerned about an ‘overweight’ child needs to know this: no weight loss approach has been shown to be effective for more than 95% of the population after two to five years. There are no exceptions.
While this failure rate for weight loss is based on a 1959 study by Dr Albert Stunkard and Mavis McLaren-Hume, this failure rate has been reproduced by numerous clinical studies, and acknowledged at both the Australian New Zealand Obesity Society conference in 2009 and again at the inaugural International Obesity Summit in 2010.
In addition, weight loss attempts typically lead to long term weight gain – and a weight higher than one’s pre-diet starting weight. So promoting weight loss may actually be contributing to the obesity “epidemic.”
Kippist’s citing of the obesity statistic for children does not justify a weight loss approach. The idea that there are so many more ‘obese’ children out there than ones with clinical eating disorders ignores the great spectrum of young people who do not meet the strict criteria for diagnosis but who compromise their health in pursuit of weight loss in other ways. For example, the Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria reports that eight per cent of teenage girls smoke to control their weight.
Patients who were put on diets as children tend to tell me that as children, they felt guilty and ashamed of their seemingly oversized bodies. No matter how hard they tried to be “good,” the weight kept coming back and they blamed themselves for lack of “willpower” – rather than seeing the weight gain as a predictable course of dieting.
They felt like failures whenever their siblings were offered second helpings while they were given a list of “forbidden” foods they were not allowed. Or in cases where the family ate the same diet foods as the child in a spirit of solidarity, they felt guilty as they thought to themselves “everybody is being punished because of me.”
Many of my patients are now in a weight category that would see them labelled “obese.” I wonder what havoc has been wreaked on their metabolism, having been put on diet after diet since childhood.
Many have been so desperate to successfully lose weight that they have resorted to lap band surgery, the weight slowly creeping back three years later. They are terrified of returning to their pre-surgery weight.
When I ask them gently, “What was it like for you at that size?” the typical response is silence. Tears well up in their eyes – their pain is unspeakable.
But unlike what we are told in the “confession” sections of diet advertisements, the pain these women experience is not due to the physical experience of their large bodies. It is due to the deep sense of failure accompanied by widespread stigma and discrimination – the meaning that is attributed to their fat bodies.
Society makes assumptions that because a person is fat they must lack discipline, they must be lazy, they must be stupid and therefore worthy of our disdain. The discrimination they face in daily life is relentless – and like any population facing prejudice, risk of developing mental and physical health problems heightens as a result.
Instead of encouraging children to lose weight to avoid bullying, perhaps parents and educators should work together to change the school culture which enables the bullying to occur.
If your child has red hair and gets bullied, is the solution to dye his hair brown? If your child has big ears that stick out, is the solution to get her to undergo ostoplasty so her ears will be pinned back? There’s something illogical about fighting discrimination by getting the victim to change their appearance or behaviour.
A growing movement of health professionals and human rights advocates now recognize that promoting weight loss as a solution to the obesity “epidemic” is unethical.
About 95 percent of obesity research is funded by the weight loss industry- including research grants awarded to researchers at prestigious universities and professors who are beholden to the pharmaceutical company funding their research. This has contributed to many exaggerated health risks associated with obesity.
Then there is scientific bias- science has always been influenced by the zeitgeist of its time, and we are not free from this today. Many working within the health sector are well intended, and it can be difficult to accept that perhaps what one was taught their entire life is actually wrong.
Einstein once said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Letting go of the pursuit of weight loss is not the same as giving up – it is recognising that what we’re doing, and have been doing for more than forty years in our war against obesity – isn’t working.
Emerging evidence shows that shifting away from a weight-based model to a health-centred one is showing promising results.
Instead of trying to get your child to lose weight, you can encourage health-giving behaviours which include finding physical activity that is pleasurable for them to engage in; learning to eat in a manner that is in tune with one’s body; accepting that bodies come in different shapes and sizes (as we would expect in any given population); and recognising that health is a multi-faceted, ongoing process that involves physical, spiritual, intellectual, social, and emotional aspects – not a number on a scale.
Helping your child to engage in these changes may not result in weight loss, but will bring about health benefits. More information on the health centred approach can be found at www.sizediversityandhealth.org
First up, Lydia Turner(discovered here first!)in ABC’s The Drum Unleashed today about the failure of “weight-loss” dietary products and the death and injury they cause. Then Julie Bindel on men who use prostituted women and why, followed bya podcast with Diane Levin, co-author with Jean Kilbourne of So Sexy So Soon: The new sexualized childhood and what parents can do to protect their kids. Beth Doherty then blows the lid on the reality of the Summernats car festival held in Canberra recently.
“Prescribing diet pills and re-wiring people’s intestines doesn’t teach them how to live a healthily, it merely puts them at risk of disordered eating, weight cycling and irreversible medical complications”>more
Men who buy sex: Who they buy and what they know
A research study of 103 men who describe their use of trafficked and non-trafficked women in prostitution, and their awareness of coercion and violence. Melissa Farley, Julie Bindel and Jacqueline M. Golding
Read Julie Bindel’s article on the research in The Guardian, 15/1/10
‘a drunken porn fest where women become decorations and objects adorning the trays of souped-up holden utes; where “show us your tits” for four days becomes an acceptable banner to place on a promotional tent; where women who wear white T-shirts shouldn’t complain if they’re sprayed down with a hose; and where women who are sexually assaulted are ‘asking for it’ just by their attendance‘. >more
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In this DVD, Melinda takes us on a visual tour of popular culture. “Melinda’s presentation leaves audiences reeling. She delivers her message with a clarity and commonsense without peer.” – Steve Biddulph, author, Raising Boys, Raising Girls
In this easy-to-read updated book, Steve Biddulph shares powerful stories and give practical advice about every aspect of boyhood.
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Do you read women’s lifestyle magazines? Have you thought about how magazines might affect you when you read them? Faking It reflects the body of academic research on magazines, mass media, and the sexual objectification of women.
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
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