Monday, February 25, 2008

A little exercise for National Eeating Disorders Awareness Week

As I was reading this article on the "global obesity epidemic," I couldn't help thinking that it was in fact a blueprint for creating an eating disorder.

Let's take a closer look.

Wherever we read the words weight gain let's substitute the words weight loss. Wherever we read the word obesity, let's substitute the word anorexia. Instead of weight maintenance, let's go with weight loss. For prevent we'll say cause. For less, more.

Now let's look at the section of the article that talks about strategies for weight maintenance--I mean weight loss.

[The researcher] will argue that small daily changes, say using the stairs, are enough to cause incremental weight loss that can lead to anorexia. [The researcher], however, will make the case that much larger life-style changes - say exercising 60 to 90 minutes a day - are needed to cause weight loss.

"Our data from the National Weight Control Registry suggests strategies associated with successful weight loss include high levels of physical activity and conscious control of eating habits," said [the researcher]. "Dieters who remain diligent about diet and exercise are much more likely to gain weight back."

Examples of conscious control include frequent weighing, following a consistent dietary regimen across the weekdays and weekends, and taking fast action if small weight gains are observed. . . .

Actually you don't even have to change a lot of the language here, because the basic idea in maintaining weight loss is the same in inspiring weight loss. You've got to make changes in your life--in other words, you've got to behave in eating-disordered ways--in order to lose weight.

Frequent weighing, rigid eating behaviors, obsessive attention to dietary details. Yup. Sounds like an eating disorder to me.

And since this is, after all, a week when we are supposed to become more aware of eating disorders, I encourage you to go out and eat something and then not write it down. Have a second helping. Don't weigh yourself. Eat what you feel like. Stop when you're done.

In other words, eat normally--if we can even remember what that means.


Anonymous said...

Note also that the National Weight Control Registry's definition of success is maintaining a loss of 30lbs for one year.

Hey, I bet with some good old fashioned starvation and 3-hour aerobics sessions I could keep that much off for a year. I'd still be OMG Morbidly Obese even at 30lbs less, but I'd be a weight loss success!

I want to see their full statistics. Just how many people manage to keep that much off for five, ten, fifteen years? How many are 'repeat successes'? What is the socioeconomic status of these people? (I predict that middle-class people, likely childless or with the means to stay home, have more representation than people working long hours at minimum wage.)

It has long frustrated me that behaviours considered alarming and in need of treatment in the slender are encouraged and rewarded in anyone who's fatter than a supermodel.

Kate Harding said...

Note also that the National Weight Control Registry's definition of success is maintaining a loss of 30lbs for one year.

Yeah, I've kept off more than that (more than twice that, in one case) for over two years, twice. Which is, once again, why studies on "long-term" weight loss are useless if they don't follow up for at least five years.

Katy said...

I always find it interesting that the percentage of dieters who keep weight off "long term" and the percentage of people with EDs are quite similar. I'm not saying that they're necessarily one and the same, but I wonder how much overlap exists...

Carrie Arnold said...


Very interesting observation there. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a lot of overlap, although when they measure EDs in the population, they tend to focus on AN and BN, and not the much more common EDNOS.

There is an absolutely atrocious book I heard about called "Think Like a Thin Person" by Judith Beck that advocates the very same things that you had in the last bold paragraph, Harriet. I'll give her the time of day when research shows that thin people think any differently than fat people.

mary said...

60-90 minutes a day of PLANNED exercise is 60-90 minutes a day I will not give in order to maintain!
I will walk and move each day because I am alive and I can and not because someone scares me into thinking I will keep gaining if I don't pay attention to my weight or join a gym. These messages are ridiculous.
I did gain about 10lbs. post menopause which bummed me out a wee bit. I had read that gain is normal but thought that since I already weighed XXX number of Lbs. that I had my 10lbs. ! LOL Don't work like that ladies. Our body is designed to store fat at a certain stage and we need to celebrate this and stop fearing that our body might be failing us when it's doing exactly what it's supposed to do. I have again accepted myself as I am because this is the day that I no one is going to steal it away from me with mindless BS about how I need to lose weight. Not even myself...especially not me. I think I've conditioned myself to shut off these messages.
My message this week and always is that we all love ourselves as we are and let our focus be on worldly issues of greater importance than our big or small asses. How's that for a bumper sticker? Helping others overcome ED's might be one of these causes and stopping the lies from being spewed. We can do this with our words regardless of our pocketbooks. We can each make a difference. Words are powerful weapons so let's not allow anyone use them against us.
Keep writing Harriet. Your pledge should be in the limelight this week.

we_be_toys said...

Amen sister! What ever happened to moderation, fer crying out loud?

So glad you're here, speaking sense, in a mad world.

Harriet said...

"Think like a thin person."

Gah. I'm sure I heard something like this at Weight Watchers in the 1970s.

Mary, *you're* the writer today! Keep on keeping on!

I wonder how many pounds I've lost and gained back in my life. I don't even want to try to count it up.

Anonymous said...


I am a daily reader of your blog but I usually don't comment... I've had/still struggle with an eating disorder and have been for 4 years. For NEDAW, I wrote an editorial for my college. It's positive, HAES-friendly, and recovery oriented and I thought it might interest you.


Harriet said...

Girlwith wheels,

You are a hero.

I would love to publish your essay on my blog. Would you allow me to?

Your fan,

Anonymous said...


Wow, I would be so flattered if you did!


Harriet said...

Hi Rosalie,

It's up today. Take a look.

Anonymous said...

I think you're going a tad too far here in calling behaviors for weight loss an eating disorder. Being healthy is not an effortless state; it requires a conscientious and educated effort to achieve a healthy lifestyle, especially given the widespread promotion and availability of deleterious options. We make decisions affecting our health every day, consciously or unconsciously. We are burdened by a brain and body which evolved in times of energy deficits and adopted strategies to maximize intake of calorically dense substances while minimizing energy expenditure. While excellent for our survival in prehistory, these near-obsolete impulses have been exploited and perverted in modern society of junk food and La-Z-Boys. What we want then, what advertisers have shown to us as something to want, is not always what's best for our health.

If our unconscious impulses cannot always be trusted, we must learn to rely on a conscious, rational approach to decision-making in regards to our health. By understanding what makes us healthy and by becoming aware of our physical condition, we can better act to promote and maintain our health and vitality.

The activities you mention, the weighing of oneself, awareness of foods' nutritional content and the manipulation of diet, are not necessarily behaviors of disordered eating, though I concede those suffering from eating disorders do exhibit such behaviors. The difference between disordered and normal is how and why such behaviors are performed. An anorectic may restrict themselves to a rigid and dangerously low number of calories in the hopes of shrinking into nothing while risking malnutrition whereas an overweight person may seek to reduce their hypocaloric intake by substituting calorically-dense junk foods for nutritionally-dense fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein for the purposes of reducing risk of chronic disease, reaching a normal weight, and improving cholesterol levels. It is not the actions themselves that constitute disordered behavior, but rather the intentions, nature and outcomes of the actions. When the behavior jeopardizes health, through physical or psychological harm, only then can it be considered disordered. The activities which you mentioned can be performed without causing any distress by normal individuals- perhaps those who do experience anxiety when making choices regarding food or the like should seek help. Perhaps a behavior initially carried out for health could be taken to such an extreme that no longer is performed for healthful reasons or effects; but regardless, calling such behaviors in and of themselves an eating disorder is unjustified.

Harriet said...

Sorry, disagree with you on every point, starting with your definition of "health."

Health is not restricting your calorie intake to unnatural levels. Health is not an obsession with calories, grams, ounces, carbs, fats, etc.

You seem to be of the school of thought that says pain is required for good health. I don't think so.

What I know is true is that there is a spectrum of disordered behaviors around food, with a severe eating disorder at one end and maybe a casual diet on the other end, and a whole lotta gray area in between.

And actually, I've done the diet thing way too many times, and every time what I remember thinking: I've replaced my obsession about what to eat with an obsession about what not to eat. That is, the act of dieting itself reinforces by definition an obsessive state of mind.

You can argue it all you want. I'm not going to agree with you, or post further comments to this effect.

Anonymous said...

I really liked this post because it made that connection that people generally don't get--that focusing on and obsessing over food is inherently hurtful and inherently injurious.

There are, I'm sure, some people who did not grow up with dieting mothers and did not track every diet fad that has passed by in the last few years, who really do find the information, "carrots are better for you than Cheetos" novel and helpful. But, for the most part, all of this "advice" just reinforces disordered and maladaptive notions about food and eating.

And I think it's terrible that people don't seem to get how hurtful all this is. To highjack someone's mind so that it centers on food and weight is a sad and tragic thing. It is a thing from which you don't recover, especially when everywhere you go a new convert spouts, for your listening pleasure, "health" advise.

This is not to say that I think that people ought to eat Cheetos and not carrots. It is the method of talking about these things that I find objectionable. I think, on balance, the current method of "mind and measure" is only making things worse, and creating new obsessives every day.

Harriet said...

You're so right. Nearly everyone I know gets this and has since they were 10 years old, more's the pity.

This focus is why there is so much disordered eating in this country right now. It's become a national obsession. Awful.

Anonymous said...

Well, ya know . . .

I'm a NWCR member. I've kept off 70+ lbs for 5 years now.

I eat normally. I don't engage in disordered eating. I eat healthy food, I eat full-fat junk, too. I just eat the latter less often, and the former more often. I work out - mostly by biking and weightlifting - and I do that to be more healthy, of course, but the overriding reason is actually one of enjoyment - of moving my body in space and feeling good. Feeling like a kid again.

I am sorry that you feel you have to invalidate the experience of those on the NWCR and believe that we have to be engaged in something unhealthy. Frankly, I figure this: some prople eat well, some people eat poorly, some people obsess, some people do not. And you can't figure out who those people are by looking at them.

I'm actually totally for accepting yourself as you are, no holds barred. Your life is happening now, baby, so enjoy it, whatever your size!

But you don't have to tear anyone else down to build yourself up, y'know? Obesity, anorexia, healthy weight - nothing in this world is black or white. There are overweight people who eat healthy. There are normal weight people who eat horribly, and do have an EDNOS or worse. And just about everything else in between, exists out there somewhere.

I agree with Charles that "The difference between disordered and normal is how and why such behaviors are performed." If I were diabetic, I would be checking my blood sugar daily, eating according to a reasonable schedule, and paying attention to my food.

I'm not diabetic, but I do have a family history of heart disease, and my weight loss and maintenance have improved my health greatly over the last few years, not to mention my personal quality of life. This is a good, sensible reason for watching what I eat, as I failed to pick my grandparents as well as I could have. And I'm of an age where the genetic problems I inherited were beginning to come home to roost.

Thing is, you just can't stereotype anyone, 'cause you're going to be wrong at least some of the time. For example, I don't find this weight control thing particularly hard. I don't restrict what I can eat, other than again, I eat healthier food more of the time. But I sure do eat my share of fun food, with zest, and with -0- guilt.

I don't know if you'll publish this comment or not, but I just wanted to give you something for you to think about. :-)

It doesn't have to be pain and deprivation, and it doesn't have to be all that hard. Modern society's idea of what it takes to lose weight and keep it off is way skewed toward the severe, deprivational end of the spectrum. And we humans simply don't do deprivation all that well, y'know?