‘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
How does it make you feel when someone close to you tells you they feel fat?
As a woman in my mid-20s, this is something I experience every day – from my friends, family and others around me. And now, I have to see it on Facebook. Facebook encourages women to tell their friends just how much they hate their bodies, through ‘I feel fat’ statuses and emoticons.
I was 19 when I began using Facebook in 2007. Though I wanted to think the worst of my adolescent years of body insecurity were behind me, I found my insecurities heightened through this popular social media platform. One of the best things Facebook has provided is a sense of connection, a feeling of belonging and a way to experience events in the lives of those close to us. But with this comes the ability to look closely at other people’s lives, and equally have our own lives placed under the spotlight. We can often find ourselves drawing comparisons between our life, and the lives of those appearing in our daily newsfeeds.
But it’s not just about these personal experiences. As a counsellor in the field of eating disorders, I spend a lot of time talking to people about the way they feel about their bodies – how much they hate their bodies, how dissatisfied they are that they can’t look the way they want, how hard they are working and how much time they are spending trying to change their bodies, and how this is ruining their lives. I also spend a lot of time speaking to concerned loved ones, carers, teachers and health professionals who see the pain of disordered eating and body shame up close, yet can struggle to help.
Since 2013, Facebook has enabled users to choose ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’ emoticons as part of the ‘feelings’ feature of status updates. Having these word choices normalises the use of derogatory descriptive terms in the place of real feelings. How can a person feel ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ when these aren’t actually feelings? ‘Fat’ and ‘ugly’ are adjectives. Of course these adjectives are also judgements, placed on us by society to make women, (and increasingly men), feel negatively about their bodies. When someone says “I feel fat” what they’re really communicating is their feelings of unattractiveness, unhappiness, embarrassment and insecurity about their body. These feelings are most commonly a response to unrealistic, culturally promoted ideals of thinness and beauty.
Normalising this kind of language is especially harmful to young people. Body image is consistently rated as the biggest issue of concern for all young Australians. Research shows this kind of ‘fat talk’ increases body shame and disordered eating and lowers self-esteem –all risk factors for developing a clinical eating disorder. Facebook use is also associated with increased risk of developing an eating disorder, along with other risk factors including weight concern and anxiety.
As someone who has experienced the effects of this kind of language, both personally and professionally with clients, I’m asking you to rally with me in urging Facebook to remove the ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’ emoticons and options from status updates.
Change petitions launched globally today
Rebecca and seven other young women across the globe have launched parallel change.org petitions today urging Facebook to remove ‘I feel fat’ statuses and emoticons.
The women represent Australia, Mexico, USA, UK, Ireland, Germany, Brazil and Argentina The petitions are supported by Endangered Bodies, an international initiative dedicated to challenging body hatred and promoting self-acceptance.
The women say Facebook must act because:
+ Body image is consistently rated as one of the biggest issues of concern for young Australians. It is well documented that fat talk perpetuates and normalises body shame rather than reducing it.
+ ‘Fat’ is an adjective, a descriptive word about a physical attribute. It is not a feeling. We all have fat, we all need fat. But saying ‘I feel fat’ is shorthand for feeling unattractive, unhappy with oneself, or for dissatisfaction.” (Shape Your Culture)
+ Fear of fat and idealisation of thinness is reflected in the form of weight stigma. This can have a serious impact on millions of individuals dealing with negative body image. Body shaming and weight stigma are associated with lower self-esteem and disordered eating, an issue that Facebook needs to take seriously.
We need change. We need it now. And we need your help to get it. Please join us in our crusade. We are in the midst of a public health crisis in Australia. Weight, eating and body image issues are rampant. The weight loss services industry has positioned itself as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, causing harm and confusion to Australians.
If you are a REGISTERED HEALTH PROFESSIONAL IN AUSTRALIA (eg psychologist, doctor, dietician) and you share our concern, please sign the petition for a Senate inquiry into the need for regulation of the weight loss services industry, namely the advertising and sale of dietary products and supplements. If you are not a health professional, please join Endangered Bodies Australia so we can keep you informed and let you know of the many ways you can be involved both now and in the future.
You can read the letter by clicking on the image below.
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.
Yesterday dietitian Susie Burrell made the extraordinary claim that obesity is socially contagious in an opinion piece titled ‘Wanna get skinny? Might be time to ditch your fat friends’.
Burrell cited the Framingham Heart Study as evidence that people who have fat friends are more likely to become fat themselves. She called for readers to avoid fat people, lest they become infected with this modern-day social contagion.
This is so messed up I don’t even know where to begin.
The Framingham Heart Study was a decades-long analysis of heart disease that started in 1948 in a Massachusetts town.
Nearly 40 years later, ‘social contagionist’ scientists from Harvard Medical School and the University of California dredged up the old data and performed statistical analysis, concluding that obesity is socially contagious.
The same authors have made claims in the New England Journal of Medicine and various media outlets that everything from obesity to divorce to poor sleep to loneliness is also socially transmissible.
Their conclusions have since met widespread criticism.
In a paper titled ‘The Spread of Evidence-Poor Medicine via Flawed Social Network Analysis’, the mathematician Russell Lyons reported the statistical methods used by lead author Nicolas Christakis and James Fowler to be riddled with statistical errors on many levels.
Lyons’ paper has since passed peer review and was published in the journal Statistics, Politics, and Policy. A PhD candidate at the Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University’s School of Public Health, David Merritt Jones, has been keeping a close eye on the developments as they unfold. He reports:
Two other recent papers raise serious doubts about their conclusions. And now something of a consensus is forming within the statistics and social-networking communities that Christakis and Fowler’s headline-grabbing contagion papers are fatally flawed.
Andrew Gelman, a professor of statistics at Columbia, wrote a delicately worded blog post in June noting that he’d ‘have to go with Lyons’ and say that the claims of contagious obesity, divorce and the like ‘have not been convincingly demonstrated’.
Another highly respected social-networking expert, Tom Snijders of Oxford, called the mathematical model used by Christakis and Fowler “not coherent.” And just a few days ago, Cosma Shalizi, a statistician at Carnegie Mellon, declared, ‘I agree with pretty much everything Snijders says’.
Gelman argues that the papers might not have been accepted by top journals if these technical criticisms had been aired earlier. Indeed, Lyons posted damning quotes from two anonymous reviewers of his own work. “[Christakis and Fowler's] errors are in some places so egregious that a critique of their work cannot exist without also calling into question the rigor of review process,” one of them wrote.
Christakis and Fowler have since been invited to provide an explanation of their statistical methods in the journal Annals of Applied Statistics. However, as of July 2011, this was reportedly still being revised.
It is difficult to understand why Burrell would rehash such a highly contested study and use its dubious findings to call for the hysterical and widespread discrimination against fat people.
The title of Burrell’s piece is alarming. It assumes that being skinny is what readers of The Punch either already desire or should desire to achieve.
Burrell goes on to promote stereotypes, associating ‘overweight’ with morally deficient characteristics such as laziness, while encouraging readers to seek out “thin, fit and healthy” people and “do what they do”.
Does it really need to be spelled out that not all fat people are automatically lazy, gluttonous slobs? That being “fit and healthy” is not exclusively synonymous with being thin? That we cannot assume that just because as person is thin they are engaging in healthy behaviours, or because they are fat, they are eating cheese puffs all day?
With approximately 70 per cent of our DNA contributing to our weight, why does Burrell assume everyone should – and can be – thin?
Burrell concludes that if a fat person expresses concern about their friend’s gym habits, the friend should ‘defriend’ the fat person and tell them they are ‘disappointed’ with them.
What if the fat person’s friend engages in compulsive exercise? Or is suffering from an eating disorder and really should not be exercising four hours a day? Does it really make sense to make these broad sweeping generalisations and recommendations?
Burrell’s claim that “dieting is frowned upon by those who know they too need to lose weight, but are currently making the choice not to” is grossly misleading. It is absurd to suggest that only fat people who need to lose weight are against dieting.
Numerous studies since 1959 have shown diets for weight loss carry a failure rate of 95-98 per cent after 2-5 years.
Health writer Paula Goodyer attempted to demonstrate weight loss as sustainable in an article titled ‘The Exercise Myth’ last week in The Sydney Morning Herald by citing The National Weight Control Registry which supposedly proves people can lose weight and keep it off over the long term.
Yet this registry was discredited by dietitian Joanne Ikeda and her team of researchers as far back as 2005.*
Diets don’t work, and carry unintended consequences that put a person’s health at risk. These include food and body preoccupation, weight cycling, higher than pre-diet starting weight, eating disorders, weight stigmatisation, and binge eating.
It is unethical for a health professional to recommend the discrimination and stigmatisation of fat people. It goes against the very spirit of health to promote anything that actively harms a population of people. Research has shown that shame does not lead to health-giving behaviours.
The best thing we can do for our health is focus on health-giving behaviours, and allow our weight to fall where it will.
Already a global shift away from a weight-based approach to a health-centred paradigm is happening – with the key principles including finding pleasurable physical activity, engaging in intuitive eating, and viewing health as a multi-dimensional, ongoing process including physical, intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, and occupational aspects.
*see Ikeda et. al. (2005). The National Weight Control Registry: A Critique. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 37(4): 203-205.
Note: In response to readers’ feedback, the source of the 70 per cent statistic can be found here. What this means is that approximately 70 per cent of the outcome in weight variability in a population can be attributed to genetic causes.
“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” is used as a source of ‘thinspiration’ for girls. It features prominently on pro-anorexia websites. The slogan is cited to strengthen the resolve of an eating disorders sufferer, to help them exercise ‘willpower’ in their quest for ultra-thinness. It is a slogan contributing to suffering and death.
But does substituting the word ‘fit’ for the word ‘skinny’ really make much difference?
Of course it’s good to be fit. I support and encourage fitness for girls. But the slightly edited slogan is still too reminiscent of the original, still too enmeshed in eating, and the taste of food, to be harmless. “Nothing tastes as good…” implies a sacrifice of the enjoyment of food for the sake of ‘fitness’ which in the minds of many girls is easily interchangeable with ‘skinniness’.
This is not new – a previous ‘inspirational’ Lorna Jane t.shirt stated “I earn my chocolate one step at a time”. These messages are blatantly irresponsible for any company, especially one which is part of the fitness industry, when we know that eating disorder populations are over- represented in women who exercise regularly. It sends the message that food must be “earnt” or “deserved”, which is a belief underlying the onset of eating disorders and the mechanism that maintains them.
This is a very intentional hijacking of this harmful phrase. It sends a double meaning as it capitalises on wording familiar to those who have been exposed to pro-ana material. It’s quite sickening for a company like this to be capitalising on diseased thought patterns.
However these messages aren’t just dangerous for a clinical population, they send the message to anyone that it is OK not to eat and contributes to our existing confusion about what “health” actually is.
As my Collective Shout colleague Nicole Jameson write on Lorna Jane’s FB page: “I guess ‘nothing feels as good as accepting your body and enjoying food’ isn’t going to sell much overpriced gym wear”.
Some other comments which perfectly capture what’s happening here:
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
Two young women dead thanks to the fetishisation of female body parts
British woman Claudia Aderotimi was only 20 when she died last week after travelling to the US for a procedure to give her a bigger ‘booty’. She paid more than £1000 ($1600 AUD) for silicone injections to give her the look she thought would help score a part in music video clips. She’d auditioned before, and failed.
The practitioner used industrial silicone. Think sealant designed for plumbing kitchens and bathrooms. This noxious substance was injected into a vein, in error.
Claudia Aderotimi flew to Philadelphia for a cut-rate bottom enhancement in a hotel near the airport in an effort to conform to pornified ideals of women’s backsides, increasingly featured in music video clips.
The silicone injection was apparently a ‘top-up’ to a procedure carried out last November. It was arranged online and performed by a practitioner believe to be lacking qualifications.
Last Monday she developed chest pains and was taken to hospital where she died 24 hours later from a suspected a blood clot in the lung believe to be caused by the silicone entering her bloodstream.
It’s not the first time women have been harmed from the use of cheap industrial silicone. Here’s a report about how other women were made gravely ill as a result.
Susannah Frankel observes that we fetishise the female form and then condemn the wish to improve it. She writes:
Of course, anyone with more than a passing interest in body image will know that the roundness of rump that Aderotimi aspired to is no more easily achievable than the ideal of extreme slenderness that is still more widely upheld by the media – unless, of course, one is born in possession of either. Times may be changing – it is reported that buttock implants are almost as much in demand as breast augmentation – but the emotional impulse that lies beneath the desire to change one’s body in any shape or form remains the same. And so, after years of women the world over wondering “does my bum look big in this?”, will they now be asking: “Does it look big enough?” And if anyone were ever likely to miss the cruel irony that lies at the heart of this, then Aderotimi’s story has driven it home.
But some women shouldn’t have bums at all
But of course it has to be the right kind of ‘big’ – not the ‘wrong’ kind used by the weight-loss industry to shame women into buying its products. Have a look at this add (left) seen in a Melbourne shopping mall last week (thank to Catherine Manning for forwarding).
“No hips or butts”
Apparently OptiSlim’s meal replacements will magically transform the woman on the left into the woman on the right and give her that nice, tight, pert, rounded backside so necessary to be an acceptable woman and to complete and utter happiness in life.
While OptiSlim doesn’t involve knives or needles, the female body is still broken down into problematic parts (hips, butts) which need to be transformed.
Carolin dead after sixth breast enlargement: male fans pay tribute – to her breasts.
Claudia’s death came after another woman of similar age also had her life cut short while trying to super-size her breasts. German porn actress Carolin Berger, better known as ‘Sexy Cora’, dead at 23.
Carolin Berger, who weighed a mere 46 kilos, wanted to fill a size 34G cup. During the operation by two US surgeons (do these people ever say no?) she suffered a brain hemorrhage and was put into an induced coma where she lay for nine days before dying. Sky News reported:
She went under the knife for the last time at the Alster Clinic and was having 800g (28oz) of silicon injected into each breast. But her heart stopped beating during the operation. She suffered brain damage and was put into an induced coma. Cora’s husband Tim Wosnitza remarked, “The doctors told me that she wouldn’t make it. The brain damage was too big.”
Basically every mainstream headline about her death involves the words ‘porn star’ or ‘sexy’, and few use her non-porn-industry name. A couple examples: “‘Sexy Cora’ Dead: Porn Star Dies After Sixth Breast Operation” . . . “Porn Star Dead After Breast Surgery”
She cites a post on a forum eulogising ‘Sexy Cora’ for dying in the line of duty:
She’s a hero. She died doing something awesome to an extent that most people wouldn’t dream of. She’s like a cop that died saving a bus full of babies and puppies by pushing it through the wall of a burning building.
Her death is a tragedy because it lessens the pool of new pornographic images of women with grotesque silicone mounds where there natural breasts once were, for men like him to enjoy.
Porn stars are not human beings, they are a brand of consumer sex receptacle. Thus are the dimensions of Berger’s breasts, both pre- and post-op, more germane to the announcement of her death than, apparently, the detail… that her surgeon-butchers are now up on negligent homicide charges. To find out about that, you have to go to CBS News’ lurid true crime website, where Berger’s humanity is of little importance compared to her value as a sensationalized dead TV slut. If you doubt this, you have only to observe the 38-page wealth of “Sexy Cora” images available in a CBS online photo gallery, and compare it to the amount of CBS discourse relating to Berger as a human person (barely any), or to the instances of broader CBS discussion of the murderous effects of institutionalized misogyny on the quest for human enlightenment (zilch-o).
She says Carolin died because of “rigorous adherence to deeply internalized pornographic beauty standards.”
Claudia and Carolin were real women whose lives were needlessly sacrificied in pursuit of a goal inspired by pornographic fantasises about what constitues a sexy woman. But all women and girls are harmed by the message that they are in need of repair, a message becoming so loud that in the end they think of their whole bodies as deformed and in need to correction.
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