On eating disorders

(ETA: Here’s an excellent, concise Boston Globe editorial on the matter.)

A post from therealjae on what really killed Terri Shiavo, and another from redredshoes. (I’ve always felt ambivalent about strong language warnings–I think lack of information is more harmful than hearing a few improper words–but if you’re offended by strong language, then you might not want to click.)

I recently wrote a short article for the Tucson Osteopathic Medical Foundation‘s magazine on eating disorders. Here are some of the things that I learned:

– Anorexia isn’t just about skeletal women who refuse to eat, and bulimia isn’t just about throwing up. There are many ways to lose weight too fast (excessive exercise is one of them; purging without binging is another), and there are many ways to purge what you eat (not only by throwing up but also by abusing laxative and diuretics, or by exercising to excess).

– You don’t need to have full-blown anorexia or bulimia to have an eating disorder. There’s a third category, Eating Disorder Nonspecified, for eating disorders that don’t strictly fit either of these categories, but are nonetheless harmful. If you’re losing weight too fast–even if you started off weighing enough that this doesn’t make you underweight; if you binge without purging; if you display some aspects of either disorder without all of them in any way–these are eating disorders, too, and harmful.

– Even women who don’t fall under Eating Disorder, Nonspecified can be dysfunctional about food. If one looks around at how even those who aren’t endangering their lives interact with food, one quickly becomes pretty troubled.

– Eating disorders are about control. When we feel out of control about other aspects of our lives, we’re most in danger of trying to gain control through how we handle food.

By the time I finished writing my article, I was incredibly grateful to Naomi Wolf (The Beauty Myth) and Susan Faludi (Backlash) for shifting my own thinking about food and weight. I read both their books in my early 20s, at a point when I was becoming insecure about my appearance but wasn’t doing anything particularly dangerous about it, and I really thought for the first time about how unrealistic our expectations in terms of female appearance really are. I looked around me (instead of at magazines and the media), saw how many sizes and shapes women came in–and were beautiful in–and decided that for me, whether to eat something would never be a moral decision. (If you don’t believe people–and women in particular–make food a moral decision, watch a woman debate whether to eat a brownie sometime.) (And has any one of us not been told we’re “good” or “bad” because we’ve decided to not eat or eat something?) Once in a while I forget all this–it’s hard not to, when surrounded by so many scary attitudes about food–but mostly, I’ve managed to hold to it.

I wish I could find a way to make every woman in the U.S. believe that she’s beautiful regardless of how her body is shaped.

And when I hear the media going on about the obesity problem in this country, I get really angry. Because where I see problems are with working physical activity into our daily lives, and with eating healthier foods and finding the time to prepare them, and with the fact that we obsess so much about food–and as a result think so much about food–in the first place.

My brother, who is living near the French border right now, said to me that if a friend runs into you while you’re eating, he’ll always say, “Bon apetit,” even if he can’t otherwise stay to chat. The expectation is that of course food is something to be enjoyed, and not a source of stress.

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