The Winners are Dead: Contextualizing Eating Disorders

By | January 5, 2011

NB: Y’all know I never do trigger warnings, but since I know recovery can be a bitch, I am laying one out this time: this post discusses eating disorders and pro-ana/thinspiration.

“Fat people are often supported in hating their bodies, in starving themselves, in engaging in unsafe exercise and in seeking out weight loss by any means necessary. A thin person who does these things is considered mentally ill. A fat person who does these things is redeemed by them. This is why our culture has no concept of a fat person who also has an eating disorder. If you’re fat, it’s not an ED — it’s a lifestyle change.”
The above paragraph from my post on Monday has been making the rounds on Tumblr.

I could have predicted it. Sometimes I think 90% of my writing is just packing peanuts cushioning one really solid and meaningful quote, and I have to write in all that other stuff to deliver the important bit in a single cohesive piece. Though I am hardly the first person to express the paradox described above, it makes me happy to see folks absorbing it and passing it along. This is one of those ideas that is invisible until the moment someone points it out to you. After that, it become obvious, inescapable; it cannot be unseen. It’s an a-ha moment, a click, a revelation. So it’s not a surprise to me that folks would respond to it.

And it’s not even a surprise, really, that it should also find its way onto a thinspiration or pro-anorexia feed. Or two, or more, by now, perhaps. For those unfamiliar with the notion, pro-anorexia (often shortened to pro-ana) is an ideology that believes eating disorders to be a legitimate lifestyle choice and not necessarily damaging. Though the shorthand specifies anorexia, it is generally applied to any eating-disordered behavior. Lazy thinkers will often attempt to link fat acceptance communities with pro-ana ones as equally irresponsible and dangerous movements. It might seem like a neat and tidy thing, to build a spectrum with extreme fatness and extreme thinness on either end, in a perfectly-balanced analogy. The problem is that anorexia (and other EDs) is a behavior, not a body type, and fat acceptance does not systematically advocate for overeating, which would be necessary for the analogy to work. That said, what pro-ana groups do share with fat acceptance communities is finding beauty in body shapes considered ugly by conventional standards, as well as a desire for full bodily autonomy, unrestrained by well-meaning interlopers. But there the similarities end.

If the comments to Monday’s post have revealed anything, it is that eating disorders are complex and convoluted, in spite of widespread assumptions about EDs being the exclusive province of skinny teenaged white girls from comfortable socio-economic backgrounds. These assumptions work to minimize the reality that most of us who grow up female in American culture will first learn disordered eating patterns far younger than we’d like to admit, and that this is a problem across race, class, gender, and age. It is a cultural problem. It is a social problem. It is a problem we all face, at one time or another, whether it happens to us or to someone we know.

As animals we eat — we need to eat. Food, like oxygen, is required for our survival. We cannot ever get away from that. It’s a need we’ll never overcome, an urge we’ll never escape. We eat. Our bodies drive us to eat even against our will. We can make a stand and defend it ferociously — I am disciplined, and I will not eat anymore. Or I will eat barely anything at all. Or I will eat only when I have consciously decided that it is acceptable for me to eat, and then I will eat what I have consciously decided is permissible for me to ingest, in an amount that looks appropriate to whatever intellectual standard I have devised.  I will not allow my petty physical urges to rule me. But we will always need to eat.

Self-induced starvation may be a symptom of an eating disorder, but it is not just that, nor is it a funhouse-mirror distortion of “healthy” habits. It is an accurate reflection of our culture around eating and food. We feel its pressure everywhere we go. It touches every one of us, this compulsion toward control, this unwillingness to trust our hunger, to have faith in the ability of our bodies to govern themselves, and to live in concert with our needs. Our bodies are anarchists (we think)! Our bodies are out to destroy us, by accumulating fat we don’t want, by putting it in places we’d rather it not go, by constantly demanding food, care, attention, nourishment, energy that we can’t spare. Our bodies are wild horses to be broken, to be saddled and bridled and worn down. Our nature is chaotic and not to be trusted. Managing this requires constant vigilance, and never “letting go” — never ever can you “let yourself go”. While our bodies are demanding food, our culture is educating us on the terrible dangers of allowing our needs and desires take their own course, and on the moral implications of failing to keep them in check.

Pro-anorexia does not read to me as an inscrutable horror — pro-anorexia makes perfect sense in the context in which we all live and eat. We live in a pro-anoretic culture. Enormously popular shows like The Biggest Loser (and its multitudes of weight-loss reality-TV offspring) reward those who cast all caution to the wind in a single-minded effort to be thin. The news media reminds us daily — literally daily! — to flee from fatness in screaming terror and to embrace lifelong dieting patterns and broken relationships with our bodies, all in the name of health. While individual ED sufferers have individual circumstances, eating disorders at large are the wages of a culture that works diligently to build an uncrossable chasm between our intellectual selves and our physical selves. They are the product of overwhelming pressure to meticulously defend our bodies against our own needs. This pressure breaks us, in the head. It takes the normal impulses for eating and hunger and shatters them into a thousand unrecognizable pieces.

When I say that pro-anorexia makes sense, I am not advocating for anorexia, nor for any disordered eating patterns. I would no sooner advocate for starvation than I would for compulsive overeating. In fact, I feel roughly the same way about pro-ED behaviors as I do about weight-loss surgery — I think they are a bad idea. I think they are deeply harmful. I refuse to listen to others promote them, and I do not allow them to be promoted in the tiny cultural spaces I control, such as this blog. But I also understand that people will take that path, and I do not shun, shame, or ostracize those who do. It’s a difficult and complicated world, too much so to shut out those folks who might benefit from a little compassion.

Our reaction, socially, to eating disorders tends to be one of fear and disgust. But this is what we’ve wrought — this is our own work, whether we support it directly by participating in diet culture, or whether we allow it to take place by passively remaining silent. We are responsible. How dare we recoil in pathologizing horror from our own reflection? By making eating disorders shameful, we isolate the very people who are in greatest need of support.

In response to Monday’s post, reader Holly commented, in part:

“Having an eating disorder is an isolating, disorienting, often terrifying experience. And while ultimately I can only speak for myself, I am comfortable assuming that being fat amplifies many aspects of this experience. Being fat with an eating disorder means being forced, again and again, to confront the fact that society hates you when you are at precisely your most vulnerable. Being fat with an eating disorder means being denied treatment, being denied empathy. It means waving your hands in the air, begging for a life preserver, and getting a “thumbs up” instead. For me, it’s meant a line of therapists and doctors declaring that I must have Binge Eating Disorder before one word about food had passed my lips, yet dismissing me completely when I admitted to restricting and purging. It’s meant being medically hospitalized with rock-bottom potassium levels and an arrhythmia after purging 10-15 times a day for months on end – bankrupting myself and practically failing out of college – yet being told 2 days later on the ED unit that I was “all set to go home in a couple of days.” It’s meant losing half of my body weight and receiving only compliments, not once being asked how or why. It’s meant losing my gallbladder after a crippling attack of pancreatitis, and being asked by the ER doctor if I was an alcoholic, not whether I had recently lost a large amount of weight. It’s meant being referred to Weight Watchers minutes after telling a new doctor about my history. It’s meant knowing, from the beginning, that I was in a good position to “get away with it” because no one suspects the fat girl. It has played a huge role in keeping me sick.”

A culture that supports weight loss by any means necessary is a culture that supports eating disorders. It is a culture that supports the sickening and weakening of us all, in the name of improving our health, the very thing that we sacrifice. It instructs us either to succeed or be destroyed by the effort.

To some extent, eating disorders are a compulsive urge to control the uncontrollable — one might as well try to lasso the ocean. At a certain point, past denying, past deprivation, we don’t have intellectual control over our bodies any longer. No matter how hard we try, no matter how fierce our conviction. We don’t have control. The only way to win the fight with our bodies is to die. The winners are the ones who are dead. They are the ones who have triumphed, decisively, over the needs of their bodies, forever.

We can heal by coming to accept that surviving in concert with our bodies and our needs — our valid, justifiable, legitimate needs — is the healthiest way to live. But ultimately, the cure is to fix our culture, to repair the toxic world in which we all live. Changing culture sounds like a huge and impossible task but it’s not, and in a world that is beginning to encourage parents to put their infants on diets, something has to be done. We can’t go on starving ourselves, and starving each other, and expect anyone to survive.


48 Comments

Kate Black on January 5, 2011 at 12:10 pm.

You are so fucking amazing.

I wish I had written this.

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Helena on January 5, 2011 at 12:35 pm.

Ditto this. Mind = blown.

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Lesley on January 5, 2011 at 2:32 pm.

Thanks, Kate.

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Marinn on January 5, 2011 at 12:23 pm.

“A culture that supports weight loss by any means necessary is a culture that supports eating disorders. It is a culture that supports the sickening and weakening of us all, in the name of improving our health, the very thing that we sacrifice. It instructs us either to succeed or be destroyed by the effort.”

Yes, exactly. Yes! Better to die trying to be thin than to live fat.

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drst on January 5, 2011 at 12:33 pm.

Our bodies are wild horses to be broken, to be saddled and bridled and worn down. Our nature is chaotic and not to be trusted. Managing this requires constant vigilance, and never “letting go” — never ever can you “let yourself go”.

Which is where ED and diet culture intersect with gender issues and religion (and the intersection of gender and religion given the role organized religion has played in casting sexuality as something evil and dangerous and sinful). Sexuality is dangerous, it must be controlled at all times, never can you let loose, especially women. At various points in history womens’ sexuality has been assumed to be almost barbaric in its insatiability, justifying oppression of women to protect society. That thinking bleeds into the negation of female sexuality, an attitude that was common in the public discourse (if not private reality) of the Victorian “cult of true womanhood” era where sex was relabeled “having babies” and the idea that women would ever want sex was preposterous, even though a lot of people were having sex throughout that period of time.

I think a lot of the fervor on the anti-abortion side of that argument has a lot to do with this, with people who still believe that sex is dangerous and you can’t give an inch or it’ll cause havoc. Women in particular need to be curtailed and anything that helps free them (like abortion or birth control pills) has to be eradicated.

There’s no way to prove this but I have to wonder (and I know I’m hardly the only person to ever mention this) if the increase, or apparent increase, in diet fervor in the second half of the 20th century is a response to the sexual revolution. When you can’t contain women through repressing them sexually, you go after the body, and the mind. *sigh*

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Lesley on January 5, 2011 at 2:34 pm.

Good points all! I think Susan Bordo has analyzed the connection between the sexual revolution and the growing obsession with diet, but I could be misattributing that.

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Tavie on January 5, 2011 at 12:39 pm.

Devestating and thought-provoking as usual. You hit every nail on the head. How do you continually manage to do that?

Heart broken for Holly.

What saddens me is that the cultural conception/accepted definition of an eating disorder has become such that most fat people I know would automatically dismiss this article as not being applicable to us- we’ve been culturally conditioned to disregard our own symptoms.

I’ve been putting off getting a checkup because my cholesterol was ‘a little higher than usual’ six months ago and I was ordered to get it down and come back 6 months later to see how I’ve done. Since I’ve put on about 20 pounds since then (mostly due to stress from having lost my job/changed to a new job/moved houses while collecting unemployment, causing high financial strain necessitating me dropping Weight Watcherse – and, of course, the fact that I consciously decided not to focus on or stress out about what I was putting in my mouth) I highly doubt that my cholesterol will be in any better shape now, and I don’t want my (thin, blonde, beautiful – not her fault, but!) doctor to scold me or dimissively lecture me yet again that my problems can be solved by losing weight. Relatedly, I menstruate twice a year and have symptoms of PCOs, which my (overweight) mother and (thin) sister also share, and when I mentioned this to my doc, she said, “Yes, you probably do, losing weight will help” – and that was the end of that.

And my experience is on the friendlier end of the scale. I still like my doctor, I have seen her in the last year. My best friend, who weighs over 400 pounds, has not been to a physician her entire adult life. HER ENTIRE ADULT LIFE. Because she’s afraid of the scolding/lecturing/dismissiveness that she received in her adolescence will continue. And she’s right.

We deny ourselves care, we’re denied care, it’s really quite horrifying.

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Lesley on January 5, 2011 at 2:35 pm.

Precisely this. Failing to connect with our bodies means failing to care for ourselves in lots of ways, and our eating habits are only one of the more visible examples.

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The Well-Rounded Mama on January 5, 2011 at 11:34 pm.

Tavie, please find a doctor that will take your symptoms of PCOS more seriously. It’s important for you to have regular periods. If you don’t, you may become more prone to endometrial cancer later in life.

There are things you can do to help PCOS that don’t necessarily involve losing weight. HAES, including regular daily exercise, is a big part of it. It might also include metformin and being careful about carb intake….not restricting to lose weight, mind, but just being mindful of it so as not to exacerbate symptoms.

But first you need a doctor who will really take your concerns seriously and not make it all about losing weight.

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Rachel on January 5, 2011 at 1:07 pm.

This is such a moving piece, and really nails the reality that disordered eating is absolutely encouraged in fat people, even though it is ultimately destructive. You are right – you only win when you die. This is a tragedy, and I am proud to be a part a community that refuses to play that game anymore. Thank you for writing this!

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Christina on January 5, 2011 at 1:17 pm.

This is an amazing post. Thank you for it.

I had an eating disorder because it made sense to me. I got involved in pro-ana because it made sense, was just this progression that seemed perfectly natural. Even now, when it’s been almost 10 years since that time, it still does and it’s something that I think I’ll always struggle with. People seem to want to separate the eating disorder, like I caught the flu but now I’m all better. Like the eating disorder just happened to me out of nowhere.

Our bodies are wild horses to be broken, to be saddled and bridled and worn down. Our nature is chaotic and not to be trusted. Managing this requires constant vigilance, and never “letting go” — never ever can you “let yourself go”. This, so much. It has taken me so damn long to stop thinking like this all the time. I still can’t say that I never think like this.

It sickens me to hear conversations, read magazine articles, etc in my daily life that sound just like those on the eating disorder ward, or the pro-ana forums. And people don’t realize it, or don’t admit it. This culture is sick, but it’s easier for people to say she is the one who’s sick, there’s nothing wrong with us.

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wriggles on January 5, 2011 at 1:37 pm.

pro-anorexia (often shortened to pro-ana) is an ideology that believes eating disorders to be a legitimate lifestyle choice and not necessarily damaging.

Yeah, that has become the dominant code, folks only get upset when the susceptible succumb, i.e. full blown anorexia, then its unseemly.

I sympathize with pro-ana, because I can understand the utter exhaustion of the soul that can come with battling an eating disorder without knowing or being able to turn it off at the source of it.

That’s true of battling with any powerful urge in this way, whether its hunger or sex drive, sexuality etc.,

The FA is opposite to it is the belief that all fat people have compulsive/binge eating disorder. If there is a polar opposite its probably certain aspects of feederism, which is also seen as what FA is.

DRST has a point-exchange of sexual appetite for hunger and appetite. That comes out of the over emphasis on rationality, certainly to the exclusion of all other forms of thought feeling or reason.

The dominance of the rational over the ‘irrational’, i.e. our strongest appetites, is supposed to see humankind rise to its highest of heights.

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Tombrokaw on January 5, 2011 at 2:03 pm.

Total B.S. You are implying that control over one’s body = unhealthy, neglectful living. Neglecting nourishment, food, etc.

Bullshit. There is a space on the spectrum that allows for control over your body and maintains health. A place that stops short of anorexia but also prevents one from becoming a fat fuck. This is the place a majority of society advocates.

This place is quite damaging to you, polemically. So I can see why you would choose to ignore it in your tortured intellectual gymnastics.

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Lesley on January 5, 2011 at 2:24 pm.

Hi tom! I know I’ve written something interesting whenever you pop up.

I’m not implying that control over one’s body is unhealthy — I’m arguing that the degree to which we are obsessed with control is unhealthy, and is a contributing factor in the prevalence of eating disorders. I mean, some degree of control is obviously necessary. Think of the sanitation nightmare if that weren’t the case. I can argue for a more intuitive relationship with our bodies without advocating that we shit anywhere we like. This is not an all-or-nothing, black-and-white situation.

Which I know is quite damaging to you, polemically. So I can see why you would choose to ignore it in your simplistic appeals to the majority opinion, which is always correct and never ever misinformed or misguided.

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hazelnutmegan on January 5, 2011 at 3:21 pm.

Although I am not as crass and close-minded as Tom, I have to say that the way you phrased some of the post led me to believe that you were saying self-control of the body in all forms was bad.

I am currently around a size 14/16. I have been as big as a size 22/24 and finally found that instead of focusing on weight loss or on size, I had to focus on health. Being a healthy person requires a proactive approach and is essentially an additive process rather than a restrictive one. Instead of saying, “How much weight do I have to lose?” I now gauge my health by saying, “Have I exercised today?” “Have I eaten healthy foods?” “Have I gotten adequate sleep?” “Are my clothes fitting nicely?”
I’m not going to lie; that IS A DAILY STRUGGLE with my wants versus my needs.

I have had to re-train myself, because many people who are fat, like me, haven’t learned how to tell the difference between real hunger and other types of hunger. There is a hunger that comes from actually needing the nutrients and other hungers that come from being bored, being emotionally stressed, being upset, being a part of social events, and any number of other things. And learning to tell which is which is a skill that takes time & effort to acquire when you haven’t been paying attention to your body’s natural signals.

So, on the one hand, I think society should be more accepting of people who are fat, BUT I DON’T THINK ITS HEALTHY TO BE MORBIDLY OBESE. And I think some of America’s high obesity rate is at least partly the RESULT OF A SOCIETY that has said, “Don’t restrain yourself! Its OK to let yourself go! Its GOOD TO GIVE IN to your urges!”

But, on the other hand, I DON’T THINK BINGE DIETING AND TRYING TO LOOK MODEL-THIN ARE HEALTHY EITHER. So, keep up the good work — this is certainly a thought-provoking blog!

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Lesley on January 5, 2011 at 3:46 pm.

I hear you! The daily struggle to make choices for our overall well-being, and because we’re trying to be in tune with our bodies, is so important. That said, it’s one thing to feel like you have a weight over which you personally feel less healthy. It’s yet another to prescribe that weight to everyone everywhere. Speaking as a “morbidly obese” — I prefer “death fat”, really! — person myself, only I get to make the determination of where I feel healthiest. With regular activity and a balanced diet, I land at a certain weight, a weight where I feel most normal. That weight is waaaaaay fat by a lot of folks’ standards. Truth is, I’ve neither gained nor lost weight in ten years. It’s kind of crazy! But that’s the weight where my body just seems to settle.

I get to decide what size feels healthiest for me, because I’m the only one actually living in this body, and I’m the only one who actually knows my health indicators. Nobody else has that perspective. You get to decide what size feels healthiest for you! But you don’t get to decide for other folks. This is a positive thing, because our health is a deeply private matter and should not be up for public debate. And we should both respect each others’ experiences and feelings on this, even if they seem unfamiliar or counter-intuitive, because this failure to trust ourselves and each other with our own bodies is what gets us into this trouble in the first place.

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Lindsay on January 6, 2011 at 5:22 am.

Do you have any thoughts on Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign?

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Lesley on January 7, 2011 at 10:24 am.

I do! I wrote about them in Newsweek, so I’ll just direct you over there.

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hazelnutmegan on January 7, 2011 at 6:03 pm.

Nice article, Lesley! My general leeriness of the whole thing stems more from the government’s involvement in our health care at all, but I think your arguments are very valid. I hope Michelle Obama gives it a “look-see”!

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drst on January 6, 2011 at 12:31 pm.

Being a healthy person requires a proactive approach and is essentially an additive process rather than a restrictive one.

For you, perhaps it does. But your comment unfairly judges people like me who are “unhealthy” not because I did something bad or didn’t control myself but because I inherited problems from my parents.

Health isn’t a simple matter of “if you do the right things you will be healthy” and every person who frames it that way, as you did, harms others.

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hazelnutmegan on January 7, 2011 at 6:16 pm.

Inherited traits that make a person less-likely to have a thin body or a perfect body don’t affect whether or not they are healthy. My definition of “healthy” is someone who is doing the most they can to maintain the vigor of their body, mind and spirit. It is based on action. So, if you have things that make you sick or make it hard to maintain a small body weight, but you are conscious of what you are eating, and you are exercising in some form regularly, and you are getting the sleep your brain and body need to function, and you are finding ways to deal with stress, and you seek out spiritual replenishment — then you are healthy – whether or not other people think you are.

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Maia on January 8, 2011 at 5:38 am.

I really love this post – large swaths of it I just want to quote and make everyone read before they respond.

I may be participating in a derail, and if so I apologise, but it does seem to already be going. Let me know if I’m the one who is taking hte train off into another county though.

Hazelnutmegan I’m not convinced that the concept of ‘healthy’ is rehabilitatable (I’m really looking forward to reading this book). I think its function of judgement and morality which upholds power structures is too deeply ingrained. So while I understand the urge to redefine health to make it accessible to fat people, to me that comes across as seeking to expand a concept of priviledge so that we are inside the line of approval, rather than outside – rather than saying “this division is invalid”.

Your list of what makes someone ‘healthy’ both contains behaviours that some people cannot do – and contains behaviours that will be bad for people’s wellbeing and longevity. For example, there are people who cannot exercise, and people for whom exercise – and the constant reiteration . There are people for whom being concious about their eating is the last thing that they should be doing (or are conscious).* There are those who are not going to be able to get enough sleep, because of insomnia, babies, or multiple jobs. And maybe people can do these things, and have the resources to do these things, and they would help, but they’ve just decided that that’s not the biggest priority right now. How come only some behaviours get the tick of ‘healthy’?

And the thing is those those for whom the behaviours you have deemed ‘healthy’ are inaccessible tend to be those who are already marginalised within society. And your discourse of health marginalises them further just as much as any other.

When you talk of stress you talk of managing stress rather than changing stress, and structures – work, poverty, discrimination, that put huge amounts of stress of people. The discourse around what it means to be ‘healthy’ is about ignoring the social determinants of health for an individualised concept of what it means to be healthy.

The items you focus on, food, exercise, sleep and managing stress, are a tiny part of what affects people’s well-being and longevity. Quality of housing, workplace hazards, security of food (rather than consciousness of food) and so on and so on and so on play just as big a role. To invest the quality of ‘health’ in particular aspects of what influence well being and longevity is a an act with a political meaning.

What really resonated with me with Lesley’s piece is the idea that we can’t control our bodies, and the deep deep belief that we should. But part of that is that we can’t control our health, we can’t control whether or not we get sick, whether or not we are at risk for various chronic conditions, whether or not we then get those conditions, and how we get them, or how long we live (we can influence it, but the part of our wellbeing that any individual can influence is tiny compared to what they can’t change).

I guess what I want to say is if you define healthy as “someone who is doing the most they can to maintain the vigor of their body, mind and spirit” then who do you define as unhealthy? Aren’t we all doing the best we can? How can you ever know that someone could do more to maintain vigor?

If healthy is going to mean something concrete about people’s behaviour then it has to be exclusive, and I don’t agree with that no matter where you draw the line.

* And just as a related thought – how is it possible not to be ‘concious’ of what one eats? I know people put all sorts of meaning and understanding into what they eat, but unless you’re actually unconcious how can you not be concious of what you eat.

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Ruth on January 8, 2011 at 4:32 pm.

definitions of health seem to be the centrepeice here- Positive negative and medical. Positive is basically “i can do things-I can walk X distance or I am healthy because i can cope with everyday life”
Negative is the absence of disability or ill health “I am healthy because I have no illnesses or disabilities-my health is never a barrier to me.”
Medical definitions tend to be along the lines of “a state of absolute physical mental and social wellbeing” and are widely accepted as unattainable.
HAES tends to advocate a positive definition of health and so it is defined by the persons own experience- what is a state of good health for them (and so is infinitely variable) This is why it is so valuable- it is not exclusive by nature as although it does advocate concrete things (activity, positive diet changes and care for ones mental health) how that is interpreted is individualistic.
Society tends towards a negative definition of health and so people are pushed into contantly trying to change themselves to fit the “nothing wrong” ideal.

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Maia on January 9, 2011 at 5:15 am.

Right those are some definitions of health, but none of those were definitions hazelnutmegan put forward. Her definition was based on behvaiour.

Health as behaviour (and universal, moral behaviour) is a pretty common . I just recently had an argument about health where someone described a woman who had died of Cancer as ‘healthy’ because she was concerned about her weight, worried about food a lot, and exercised. I think health as a behaviour is an idea that does a lot of damage (even though this version seems inclusive).

Your positive definition of health also seems problematic to me. Partly because the sorts of examples you give are super narrow? Why does it matter if people get a certain distance by walking, scootering, driving, or in a wheelchair? Surely it’s the capability to travel that matters. But also because it’s looking at health individually rather than structurally. Where does hte social model of disability come into this? If you can’t cope with life surely that’s about life and not just about you?

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wriggles on January 6, 2011 at 7:15 am.

Total B.S. You are implying that control over one’s body = unhealthy, neglectful living. Neglecting nourishment, food, etc.

Actually that is society’s view in a nutshell. I was going to say it was your view but you don’t have one, you do as you are told like the obedient little soul that you are.

So full of health and yet so full of piss and vinegar. Perking up healthwise used to mean feeling uplifted, joyfully wanting to spread that good cheer, the distance you and your kind are from that, shows the truth of your own self abuse.

Poor you.

Your rage is against your own unacknowledged attack on yourself.

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PlusSizedWomanist on January 26, 2011 at 8:21 pm.

I have control over my body. AND I AM STILL FAT. Yet, the fact that I’ve lost the so called healthy 15% of my body weight is absolutely WORTHLESS because I am still perceived, as “a fat fuck” and thus I am still perceived as the paragon of unhealthiness.

And to the notion that we don’t encourage weight loss to the point of mental illness FUCK YOU. As an anorexia survivor who was actually ENCOURAGED by my doctors to KEEP LOSING WEIGHT despite all the clear cut signs of anorexia (weight loss, amenorrhea, etc), with all the comments from people commenting that they wish that they could catch whatever disease I got to lose weight, let me be the first so say YOU KNOW NOTHING LITTLE MAN.

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L on January 5, 2011 at 2:38 pm.

I often feel that being fat with an eating disorder is to be robbed of parts of your own experience. To be silenced to the point where you start to doubt that it’s even happening to you. How can something thoroughly destroy your life when noone else sees it? For me that’s the worst part because it prolongs suffering by making it invisible and refusing its existence.

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JonelB on January 5, 2011 at 3:36 pm.

Because obviously there is nothing wrong with you as long as you’re losing weight.
To spare us from having to look at your crazy, out of control body that you can’t even get into a proper size 2–UGH SO NASTY.
Really, this is why I stopped dieting. My mom still voices her various disapprovals of me when I visit home–I don’t even think she knows where it’s coming from, and most people don’t bother to look at it beyond “well hey, dieting and being thin is good! Fat=Bad! Don’t wanna be fat, because no one else wants me to be fat.” They don’t stop to think why being fat is bad, or why being thin is good, they don’t think about the punishment they put themselves through on juice fasts or grapefruit-only diets, they simply push, single-mindedly, towards thinness, which is always better.
and on Drst’s writeup:
I always joke about “religion hates me”. This is why. Not because I have sex when I want–but because I eat when I want, and I am not constantly starving myself. I represent, to some amount, that out of control female who can’t keep her eating/sexual habits in check, I am doing something wrong, wrong, wrong, to be this fat and it is my refusal to go to church to be “redeemed” by sky daddies that makes me an evil human.
Anyone who already has an issue with religion, I recommend you read it.

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Tiferet on January 5, 2011 at 3:10 pm.

When I was 13, I was in a Star Wars club, and I was interviewed for the paper. I was a size 13, and I weighed 140 pounds. Knowing what I now know (I work in medical research &c &c &c) it was probably very normal, since shortly thereafter I ended up going from a B to a D cup, and before that I had been very thin.

But my family freaked. My grandmother was diabetic and I was taught to hate fat. I was taught to harangue my dad until he went on a crash diet, so sometimes I feel this was my fault even though I was 7 when I did that and a 7 year old shouldn’t know what a diet was, but at 7 I would ask for Weight Watchers frozen dinners. :(

So I started doing this thing where I’d eat only an apple (maaaybe 2) and drink tea until after school was out. And then have a salad for dinner. And I’d dance for 2-3 hours a night, every night. (I liked dancing. I still do. And it was just as good as TV at shutting out the kids who teased me for being a geek and the alcoholic parents and their drama.)

My parents actually thought this was GRAND.

You know how this story ends. I starved myself down to 127 pounds, which doesn’t sound very impressive, but you could see my ribs. (I had a bone scan done a few years ago–my bones are heavy and thick. I have thick muscles in my legs and even at 127 I had to wear ‘wide calf’ boots.) My head looked too big, like one of those aliens that are supposed to come down from UFOs and abduct cattle and housewives.

I restricted for years. And then I got really, really sick. (But nobody ever thought of it as an eating disorder, because I weighed 127 pounds and wore a size 9! I was beautiful!)

I had long lists of things I couldn’t eat, you know. Eventually I did develop loads of food sensitivities, ironically.

Well, I got fat. I don’t actually think that would have happened if I’d been willing to, you know, let myself GROW UP at 13-14-15.

But.

My parents urged me to go back on the program. (Also, there is always something wrong with what I eat. My father could never stand that I had low, low cholesterol while eating butter and cheese and refusing to eat ‘low fat’ varieties because they’re gross. He can’t stand that I like rare meat instead of slathering the leather he ate–man, I keep forgetting he’s dead, and also, I really did love him, I want you to know that, we were geeks together and all, but–in ketchup and A1.)

Every time I’ve dieted (or been really broke or sick and lost weight) I’ve gained it all back. And then some. And doctors tell me that this is the cause of problems I’ve had since I was 15 and anorexic (until I tell them that I had those problems then) like arthritis (dance injuries) and asthma.

Lots of things happened. In my early 30s I got rebellious and started shoving everything in my mouth out of rebellion and attracted a husband who called himself an FA but was really an abusive feeder. I got a lot fatter. I got divorced.

There were a few times in my life when I was eating normally and exercising because I liked it and I was around 150-180 lbs. Probably where I would have ended up if I hadn’t intervened.

In the past couple years, I’ve actually been properly treated for the things that are wrong with me, and while I did make some lifestyle changes, I haven’t really ‘dieted’ much at all, and the funny thing is that I started to lose weight WITHOUT trying to. If I am honest I must say that I like wearing more clothing styles and shopping more easily and all. I also really hate that I feel better about myself because I am smaller and that I am so scared of tapping back into that headspace where smaller isn’t small enough that I talk about it ALL THE TIME some days.

If I end up stabilising around 150-180 lbs, I’m going to laugh and laugh and laugh.

A few years ago my father asked me angrily why I didn’t want to look like I did on my (first) wedding day. He would never replace those pictures of me with current ones. Fat ones. Until I got married again and my stepmother made him because it was disrespectful to my current husband.

The first time he asked me that I tried reasoning. I told him how sick I was, I showed him pictures of my huge head on my little body, I asked him if he thought ribs were hot.

Finally, I just said, “If you want a Barbie so badly, let’s go to Toys r’ Us and I’ll buy you one.”

I wish I’d said that when I was 13? idk. but that was the end of that conversation forever between me and him.

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Christine on January 5, 2011 at 4:24 pm.

Dude, I’m at work. I’m not supposed to be tearing up.

So thoughtfully, beautifully written. Brava. Yes and yes and yes. I wish I had one inkling of your talent. (Or Holly’s for that matter. Sister is BRAVE.)

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MsBlenkins on January 5, 2011 at 7:20 pm.

This is a bit OT, but Lesley, I just want to tell you that your responses to people who disagree with you (both outright trolls and otherwise) are my favorites in all of the internet. You always sound so *reasonable*, even when it’s probably really difficult to write a non-angry response, and when no one would fault you for just handing the commenter hir own ass. It’s damn impressive.

/ends derail

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JennyRose on January 5, 2011 at 8:40 pm.

Thank you so much. I had bulimia and at my worst I wanted to get help but (although I was average weight) I felt to fat and that I did not deserve help. I was eating huge amounts of food and purging several times a day. I knew I couldn’t do it alone but I thought any ED therapist would not take me seriously.

I still struggle with the ED but I am making progress. I am trying intuitive eating because I want to be able to trust myself. I no longer like the feeling of being stuffed. It is no longer the opposite of deprivation to me.

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Mulberry on January 5, 2011 at 10:33 pm.

Lesley, the most amazing thing about your self-quoted paragraph is that anyone finds it amazing. But then, there are people who think that weight charts are supposed to apply to individuals, rather than aggregate populations.
And we all know that Tom Brokaw is a “fat fuck” at heart, renting the body of a thinner man, and posting to Fatosphere boards to keep himself motivated. “Oh look, the fatties hate me; I must be doing something right!” (Not making this up, he has indicated such on other boards.)
Oh, and don’t worry about the “packing peanuts” style of writing, Lesley. It’s a useful skill, especially when writing those reports and essays in college history and literature classes.

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QoT on January 6, 2011 at 12:38 am.

As animals we eat — we need to eat. Food, like oxygen, is required for our survival. We cannot ever get away from that. It’s a need we’ll never overcome, an urge we’ll never escape. We eat.

You and I were on the same wavelength this week!

Of course the day after I made that post there was another panicked article about 12-year-olds damaging their health due to dieting. That people refuse to make the connection between that and our fatphobic society – as though somehow all the ads and diet shows and magazines are only visible if you’re An Evil Fattie [definition subject to change on whim] and no one else can be affected by them ever.

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Monica on January 6, 2011 at 1:05 am.

Thank you, Lesley. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for the trigger warning, which I took under advisement; I steeled myself for this, and it was hard to read, but I am so, so glad I did.

What commenter @L said really resonated with me, too. It took me a long time to claim my experiences as anorexia. I never lost my period, or experienced symptoms of anemia or any other major physical health complications. I never got into the “normal” BMI range, and there’s a part of me that still thinks that sentence should read “I never even…” But I wasn’t eating. I don’t even know when it stopped being just a diet and started being an eating disorder–was it when I stopped eating lunches? When it was I started thinking about (though never actually) purging?

I was never diagnosed and I was never treated for an eating disorder–because even at my smallest, I was still a slightly pudgy thirteen-year-old. I became severely depressed, too severely to hide, and I went to a psychiatrist and started taking Zoloft and suddenly none of my stupid tricks were working and I was hungry all the time and I didn’t hate myself enough to eat anymore. And it took me an absurdly long time to realize how absurdly lucky I’d been.

Commenter @Mulberry said the only thing about this that’s amazing is that anyone thinks it is. The thing that amazes me is that despite how much “feminist deprogramming” I’ve engaged in for the past several years, despite how much I’ve learned from the feminist blogosphere and how much I can now see that I couldn’t before–the thought that eating disorders are the logical outgrowth of a diet-obsessed culture had not yet explicitly occurred to me. So thank you, Lesley, for stating the obvious (as it were).

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wriggles on January 6, 2011 at 7:19 am.

I have to say that the way you phrased some of the post led me to believe that you were saying self-control of the body in all forms was bad.

It’s funny how the expectation of control trumphs the reality of anarchy.

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fatvegancommie on January 6, 2011 at 7:23 am.

another brilliant analysis, very little chaff.

What I find disturbing about diet culture is the persistent idea, that you so brilliantly described, is the idea that we must be restrained and contained for our own good.

This mindset make our wants and needs bad (food needs) but how far does this extend? To our sexual needs, our emotional needs, etc. My needs are not bad. Wanting to eat seems perfectly normal.

I also want to add, getting to FA through blogs like this has allowed me to embrace more of my appetites and needs, food and otherwise. I feel so much more FREE than before, free to actually be myself.

thank you

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SamanthaGt on January 6, 2011 at 12:30 pm.

There are more women in the United States with eating disorders than there are with breast cancer.
I read that somewhere and thought that couldn’t possibly be correct. But it is. Right now, there are approximately 10 million women in the U.S. with eating disorders. There are approximately 3 million with breast cancer. Let that sink in for a moment. There are three times as many women in the U.S. with eating disorders are there are women with breast cancer.

Now, breast cancer is a serious disease. I am not going to criticize fund-raising or awareness campaigns. But how many of us know the ribbon color for eating disorder awareness?

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madagascar_b on January 6, 2011 at 6:10 pm.

It’s true. The girl I met with the worst eating disorder of anyone I’ve ever met? Size 20 Australian (approx 16-18 US) – not size 2, or size 4. Chronic, chronic bulimic, hospitalised numerous times before she hit 20. No one suspected it.

I think, essentially have a collective eating disorder as a modern society.
This is what we need to fix.

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V on January 7, 2011 at 4:00 am.

i have struggled with exactly what this post is talking about. my mother was a ballet dancer; i have always been very, very short and squat. i can’t remember a point in my life where my parents and extended family didn’t hound me about my weight. i joined weightwatchers in high school, lost about forty pounds in a year, went off weightwatchers, and gained it all back in a year. at the end of senior year, i decided i really needed to “do something”, because omgbeingfatistheendoftheworld. so i ate less. and…way less. i followed the “eat every three hours to keep your metabolism going!” idea. i restricted my caloric intake more and more until eventually, i was only eating about 1000 calories a day (while also working out at curves every day and burning about 400 calories). i was counting calories in class for “fun”…it was eerily similar to a game, in my head. and i became thin! EVERYONE WAS SO PLEASED. the girl that was fat for 17 years is finally thin! victory! hooray! who cares exactly how she did it, that doesn’t matter — her body is FINALLY socially acceptable! meanwhile, i was crying every day that the number on the scale didn’t go down at least a little bit, and crying because i wasn’t happy with my body in its “improved” state. then i realized, before i left for college, that i didn’t know how to eat according to my body’s needs. my whole life had either been sneaking food and binging, or restricting my food intake. i freaked out, because that meant i would gain all the weight back — which i did. i went to college, went back to sneaking food and binging, and gained back at least sixty pounds…and here i am now. i recently realized (and had people tell me) that i had/have a legitimate eating disorder, which went unnoticed because i was doing “the healthy thing” — how could a fat girl have an eating disorder! i’m now finally learning to accept my body and its needs, which is extremely difficult after 19 years of daily reprimand. and i’m happier now, at my heaviest weight, than i think i have ever been.

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Veronica on January 7, 2011 at 8:52 am.

Gods, this was great! And you’re exactly right, of course, about our culture teaching us to supress and tame our bodes, to deny ourselves what is the most natural things in the world. A whole new pie it must be.

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Cat on January 7, 2011 at 9:01 am.

Thank you for this post. As a person who has never been “fat” I agree that is very hard to place yourself in that situation, however, a cousin of mine who is very close to me has been going through a lot of issues because of her weight. She has been chubby ever since I can remember, however, my entire family is always making nasty comments at her for her size, especially my mother, and it breaks my heart. I’ve dealt with image issues myself, even though I’m thin for most standards, I’ve come to a point in my life where I simply find food bothersome because of everything it implies, but I’ll never be able to fully understand what it means to be viewed by society as a whole like a person who is impossible to be considered pretty or someone who should hide from others to “spare them from seeing something like that” (yes, I’ve actually heard people saying this). I’m just blurting all of this out because I’m extremely glad to see that there are places where people can be open minded and reasonable and I hope my cousin can one day stand on her own two feet and stop giving in to the horrible pressure.

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Kate on January 8, 2011 at 12:47 am.

The other day I had a moment in the supermarket. I was picking out shampoo, and there were so many and I just didn’t know. And for a second, a tantalising second, I had that feeling. That same feeling I had when I was a Young Adult just starting to make my own decisions.

The feeling was: if you choose the right shampoo, if you know which one is the sparkling holy grail of shampoo, and you purchase and use it right, you will be GOOD. You will be RIGHT and your whole life will be shiny and you will be THIN and PRETTY and people will LOVE YOU.

I think this is not unrelated. It brought with it those old feelings that there IS a right way – a right way to eat, to exercise, to live, to do your hair. I never dieted as such, but I always lived well within what was ‘right’. But of course, there is no such was and so inevitably it fails, you fail because you DO NEED FOOD. I pretty much never dieted because I knew I didn’t have ‘the willpower’. What that means is, I don’t like feeling hungry, and I don’t like craving things. I like to make decisions about what to consume and then get on with my life. But this is a dreadful failure as a woman.

I am glad that I accepted that I was a failure to society. Because even though it meant years of feeling broken and unable to control myself before I worked out that it was society that had failed, it also meant that I didn’t diet and I was less vulnerable to the horrors of an ED.

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Heather on January 8, 2011 at 8:13 pm.

This is the best and most helpful description of eating disorders I have read. I want to send it to everyone I know! Thank you for putting things into words for those of us without your writing talent.

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madagascar_b on January 9, 2011 at 2:02 am.

This is why I read your blog, Lesley. I’m not, by the much-maligned BMI description, fat. But I am tall, bigboned and “too curvy” for standard clothing. Nearly every time I go to buy something simple (a bra, or some boots), I get the “it must be terrible to have such wide calves and bit feet” or “you’re just going to have to fit in to our bras” or “I don’t know where you would even get bras in that size). Little wonder that given this I had a chronic eating disorder in my teens, so severe I stunted my growth and didn’t grow to my full height until I was well in to my 20s

I find it crazy that people can eat so strangely, obsessively – and it’s socially okay, supported even, purely because they’re not by external definition, skinny. Eating Disorder means disordered eating. Not “society’s idea of too thin” or “society’s idea of too fat”.

I had horribly disordered eating at 170 pounds. I ate pure rubbish, and I knew it. I also probably ate more than most people I know who are a size 22. I had horribly disordered eating at 84 pounds. I ate nothing. I had horribly disordered eating at 135 pounds, because it took me several months of living on a ridiculously calorie controlled diet to achieve it. When I just chill out, I almost always normalise at the same weight – 145 to 150 pounds at about 5″10″.

We all normalise at different weights. We all normalise at different measurements. We may not always like what the scale or the measuring tape says at normalising weight, but it is what it is, and maybe – just maybe – if everyone just ate intuitively and embraced HAES, and didn’t attempt to fluctuate up and down – we’d all be at more peace with that. It’s taken m a long while to realise that I won’t be getting 36 inch hips soon. Or ever. Or that I won’t be buying bras in my local mall unless they decide to start stocking a larger range of sizes (because even at a disordered-for-me BMI of 19, I was still a GG cup). That I may well be buying shoes at specialty stores because my feet are too big and wide for many stores. That when low-rise jeans (blergghh) re-enter the fashion stratosphere, I’ll scrounge everwhere for jeans because of my difficult, long rise and wide hip bones and I will need to grasp the oddity of the fact that this will dictate that even at borderline underweight, I may well need a plus size. And that this isn’t my FAULT. It’s me. It’s my genetics. It is neither positive, or negative. It’s just my body, and I currently define it healthy.

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Shanna on January 11, 2011 at 7:23 pm.

“The only way to win the fight with our bodies is to die. The winners are the ones who are dead. They are the ones who have triumphed, decisively, over the needs of their bodies, forever.”

It’s funny how things seem so black and white until somebody smarter comes along with a simple yet challenging idea, and blows your safe, comfortable little world up. Suddenly color as flying everywhere and you’re so shell shocked you can’t really register the full spectrum of color consuming your world.
That’s how that quote struck me. I obsess about my weight, my looks, my skin, my cellulite, EVERYTHING…and unless I realize I’m, above all else, human, I’ll be consumed by my obsession until I die….I need to find other hobbies.

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S.E. on March 8, 2011 at 9:29 pm.

As someone who has lived with an eating disorder for years and has tried to recover many times I agree with what you’ve said here. Its amazing to me how if you take a group of women invariably the talk turns to weight, how to lose it, whose gaining it, whose lost it. I’m always very uncomfortable in these situations, never knowing what is appropriate to say (since my e.d. seems to make my thinking more extreme than others) but lately I’ve noticed that even my so called healthy friends talk about food in terms that I thought were just disordered talk. It feels like the lines between normal and abnormal are blurring.

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Rachel on May 21, 2011 at 2:40 am.

From a fat anorexic– thank you

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