‘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
You guessed it, I like the second one much better.
Really enjoying seeing the creative ways women around the world are messing with the original ad.
Also love the slogan I’m seeing: ‘How to be beach body ready – 1. Have a body. 2. Take it to the beach’.
Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett expressed the issue perfectly in a piece in The Guardian titled ‘Am I beach body ready? Advertisers, that’s none of your business’:
Is your body, the incredibly complex, awe-inspiring physical vessel that carts around your brain, and equipment for breathing, excreting, digesting and so much more, and is perhaps even growing new life within it, currently at a level of slimness determined as attractive according to western notions of female beauty such that it can be exposed to fellow human beings on the beach without causing them unnecessary trauma?
My colleague Caitlin Roper highlighted on twitter how only certain bodies are deemed to be fit and healthy.
In response to the backlash, Protein World publicly mocked its critics, saying they were fat and insecure. Buzzfeed (as well as providing a beautify gallery of other doctored billboards) records Protein World’s contemptuous responses here.
Protein World’s complete failure to demonstrate any corporate social responsibility, let alone basic civility, can only help boost signatures on this Change.org petition which already has over 36,000 signatures. Add your name today. Remove ‘Are you beach body ready advertisements’
An important article on the health impacts of alcohol
In my talks in schools around the country, I am told distressing stories of alcohol-related harm. Violence, sexual assault, damage to physical and mental health. My friend and colleague Paul Dillon, a drug educator with 25 years experience and founder of Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA) hears these stories too. He’s written about this recently here.
We are concerned about the damage being done in an alcohol saturated culture and by an industry which deliberately targets young people by designing, packaging and marketing alcohol in ways attractive to them (see my Sunday Herald Sun piece on this Here.) So it is timely and a positive intervention when a magazine like Girlfriend decides it has to educate its readers on the issue.
‘Drinking this weekend? Read this first’ is a direct piece about the harms of alcohol, especially binge drinking. Describing alcohol as ‘liquid poison’ GF exposes the risks of drinking: brain damage, breast cancer, liver damage, stomach inflammation, pancreatitis, heart disease, nerve damage, weakened bones, damaged skin and death (alcohol causes 13 percent of teen deaths in Australia). Nicola Newton from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre warms that binge drinking increases risk of injury and accidents and makes you do things you’ll regret. Read more
An unexpected response, perhaps, from an (allegedly) grown woman. But a story in the latest issue did me in.
‘Real Life Stories’ – which I have always appreciated for giving space to the raw realities of so many girls lives – opens with a first person account of Carrieanne who took on the care of her younger brothers and sisters when her mother died suddenly at only 42, for reasons unknown. Carrieanne was 18. A moving photo shows her with her three younger siblings, one only a baby. Carrieanne has applied for legal guardianship and is continuing to study while caring for the children with the help of two older siblings and neighbours. Speaking of her mum she says “I think she would be so proud of what I’m doing now.” I think she would be too Carrieanne. (Now where are the tissues?).
In other ‘Real Stories’, Mariah, 16, is working to end poverty with World Vision. She began by getting an after school job so she could sponsor a child. By 13 she was fundraising for World Vision’s Haiti earthquake appeal and is now collating a book Reaching Out: Messages of Hope, a collaboration between 30 authors, illustrators and advocates from around the world to be published by HarperCollins, with profits going to UNIFEC for which she is now a youth ambassador. “Teens might not realise it, but we have so much power. We can be the generation that changes history. We don’t need to fix world poverty tomorrow, but we can help one child at a time.” Well said Mariah! Read more
When I speak in schools, I’m often asked for advice on how to help a friend with an eating disorder (and not just girls – a male student ask me in a school in regional NSW recently). So I was really pleased to see the piece ‘Help! My BFF is wasting away before my eyes: How to deal when your bestie has an eating disorder’. Lydia Turner, co-director of BodyMatters , says one in five diagnosed with anorexia nervosa will die from the illness, while other types of ED’s like bulimia nervosa are linked to high rates of self-harm and suicidal thoughts. While alarming, it is important for girls to know these harsh facts, especially in light of the raft of on-line pro-ana (anorexia) and pro-mia (bulimia) communities which encourage self-starvation as a life-style choice and post skeletal images as ‘inspiration’ for thinness.
While girls are advised to show patience and compassion, not centering conversations on food and appearance, it is imperative the need for professional help is stressed and GF does this. If the friend with disordered eating refuses to seek help, readers are encouraged to disclose to a trusted adult (such as a school counsellor) regardless – it could save her life. “It is extremely distressing to watch a friend deteriorate before your eyes, but it’s not your responsibility to save her and you don’t have to shoulder this burden alone. You need to let the experts take charge…remember that this is a complicated illness and you cannot deal with it yourself,” GF wisely advises.
Related is ‘Why diets are dumb’ about how fad diets compromise nutrition and health. Deprivation is discouraged in favour of learning to eat in a balanced, healthy way. Specifically addressed is carb cutting (some girls won’t even breathe around carbs let alone eat them) and informed of the benefits of carbs for health. Body detoxing is described as “completely unnecessary and bad for you.” Liver and kidneys perform that job. Skipping meals messes with metabolism and can lead to binging afterwards. Meal replacements are also discouraged, as they don’t allow the full range of foods for long term health. Read more here.
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.
EVERY weekend the group of 13 and 14-year-old girls got together and played a game. They’d stand in a circle and drink straight spirits. The girl who remained standing the longest, won. Some needed their stomachs pumped afterwards. The doctors who told me about treating girls like this almost every weekend have every right to feel demoralised.
The use of alcohol has become more widespread and acceptable for children and young people. They are drinking more often and at riskier levels.
Forty-three per cent of 16 and 17-year-olds say they drink to get drunk; two-thirds of 16 and 17-year-olds think that ‘‘it is OK to get drunk occasionally’’.
In the past 10 years, about 15 per cent of all deaths of 15 to 24-year-olds were due to risky drinking.
But should we be surprised, when the alcohol industry seeks to recruit young people into a lifelong habit?
Alcohol products are designed, packaged and promoted to normalise alcohol use for young people.
Grog companies spend billions embedding their brands in the lives and lifestyles of young people.
The underage alcohol market brings in more than $100 million in profits for the industry. Sporting gear bears alcohol brand logos. Spirit brands run competitions to win electric skateboards and use social media to get their message to young people.
If a beer or spirit ad gets 10 million views on YouTube, an average of 600,000 children under the age of 17 will see it.
Promotions link booze to sports, music celebrities, sex and an enviable lifestyle.
Sponsorship of football, lads’ mags and music festivals sends a message to young people that the brand understands them and that drinking is something everyone needs to do to have fun and friends.
Music is also used to push alcohol to kids. In a study of 793 popular US songs, a research team found one in five had explicit references to alcohol and a quarter named a specific brand.
The latest Zoo magazine tells its 28,000 readers aged 14 to 17: ‘‘Here’s a good reason to go out, get slaughtered and urinate on a policeman: even industrial quantities of booze won’t destroy the grey matter’’ (which isn’t true).
Alcohol consumption causes more than 5000 deaths and 80,000 hospital visits in Australia yearly. The economic cost is about $36 billion a year.
In a paper delivered to the Right to Childhood conference in Sydney recently, Professor Mike Daube made the case for suing the industry, making it pay for the human damage.
‘‘There is massive evidence on the impacts of alcohol on our community. It is a health problem, a social problem, an economic problem, a law enforcement problem, a cultural problem,’’ Prof Daube said.
‘‘It is a cause of death, injury, violence, domestic violence, child abuse, workplace losses, road crashes.’’
Prof Daube says industry self-regulation codes are limited and toothless. The industry is skilled in countering threats to its sales by downplaying health and other consequences of alcohol use and promoting its own soft education.
What minimal regulation exists is not enough to prevent the massive alcohol-related problems we are seeing.
With a million dollars a day spent sanitising and glamourising alcohol directly to young people for whom it is actually illegal to purchase, how can the meagre budgets available to school for drug and alcohol education compete?
Advocates for change urge the following: PROPER curbs on alcohol promotion; REFORM of the tax system so that we can’t buy alcohol cheaper than bottled water; CURBS on the increasing numbers of sales outlets — often where their presence normalises drinking for young people; A FUNDAMENTAL rethink of licensing laws to quell the drunken violence plaguing our cities; LEGISLATION to prevent secondary supply to children and tougher penalties for supplying; EFFECTIVE warning labels; RAISING the legal drinking age.
Surveys show under-18s feel strongly about the levels of alcohol marketing they are exposed to and want regulation that provides stronger protection. They also want more health warnings. It’s time for real action to stop more damage.
As published in the Sunday Herald Sun Nov 18, 2012
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
Antoinette Jones – Principal – Mitcham Girls High School
“Intelligent, passionate, brilliant, fearless… I could not recommend her more highly”
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
“You continue to reset my shock meter…”
“As a teacher and parent I recommend all parents, in fact all people, to attend a talk by Melinda- it will open your eyes and awaken your subconscious.”
Heather Douglas – Parent – Pembroke School
“Melinda’s presentations to our parents, staff and full day workshops to students was inspirational, transforming the attitudes and thinking of all involved”
Paul Teys – Principal – Hunter Valley Grammar
“Melinda Tankard Reist’s presentation to Middle and Upper School students at Pymble Ladies’ College was absolutely brilliant!”
Justine Hodgson – English Faculty, Pymble Ladies’ College
“Melinda Tankard Reist has had a transformational affect on our school.”
Ms Stephanie McConnell, Principal – Turramurra High School
“As you read, be prepared to feel both grief and rage.” Robert Jensen
“These accounts are among the most unsettling you will ever read.” Steve Biddulph
“This powerful and humane book is a breakthrough…Big Porn Inc shows us we are poisoning our own spirits.” – Steve Biddulph
“A landmark publication” – Clive Hamilton
Purchase Big Porn Inc, Getting Real, Faking It, Men of Honour, Sexts Texts & Selfies, Raising Girls, Raising Boys, MTR DVD, Ruby Who? DVD & book, Girl Wise guide to friends, Girl Wise guide to being you, Girl Wise guide to life and Girl Wise guide to taking care of your body, and the new Wise Guys for the combined discounted price of $250.
‘The foremost authority in Australia cyber safety lays it on the line and challenges parents to find their digital spine.’ – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
Whether it is problems with friends, worrying about how you look or just feeling a bit down in the dumps – these books are written especially for you – to help you in your journey. Purchase all four together and save $18.50 on postage! Author: Sharon Witt
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.
“Overflowing with incisive understandings…a comprehensive and in-depth guide.” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychologist
Men of Honour -written by Glen Gerreyn- encourages and inspires young men to take up the challenge to be honourable. Whether at school, in sport, at work or in relationships, we must develp our character to achieve success and experience the thrills life has on offer.
Purchase the Ruby Who? DVD and book together for only $35 saving 10% off the individual price.
“Getting Real contains a treasure trove of information and should be mandatory reading for all workers with young people in health, education and welfare” – Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, Adolescent Psychologist
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?
Defiant Birth challenges widespread medical, and often social aversion to less than perfect pregnancies or genetically different babies. It also features women with disabilities who were discouraged from becoming pregnant at all.