Obsession masquerading as health? My thoughts on the Marie Claire article

So a little article in Marie Claire magazine called The Hunger Diaries about online food and health bloggers has raised quite a stir.  The premise of the article is whether these health bloggers might be promoting an unhealthy and obsessive lifestyle.  The health bloggers say that their quotes were taken out of context and the dangers of such health blogs were horrifically overblown.

Generally, I don't read these blogs and really am not interested in these types of blogs, where food and exercise routines are documented in almost pornographic detail.  I think about food and weight quite enough, thank you.  Unless it's specifically helping me with my recovery, I'll pass, thank you very much.  Also, these blogs tend to make my competitive and judgemental side get twitchy.  She exercised more than me, I will think, which then takes me down the path of "She's stronger/better than me" => "I must exercise more and eat less." => RELAPSE.  So yeah--for any number of reasons, these blogs aren't for me.

So I can't really say anything about the accuracy of the article and whether some health bloggers might have disordered eating or an actual eating disorder.  That's not my place, I don't know, so I'm not going there.  But I do have several points to make that have gotten lost in the dust of the kerfuffle.

1) Don't believe everything you read on the internet.  Maybe I've watched a few too many House reruns, but the fact is: everybody lies.  And it's very easy to do so online.  Just because someone says they ran X miles doesn't mean they actually did.  Maybe they ran less.  Or more.  Who knows.  I'm not anti-blogger; after all, I am a blogger.  Yet the fact remains, people are complicated.  Things might get left out inadvertently.  You might have misinterpreted.  And just because someone calls themselves a "health blogger" doesn't mean that they are healthy or that doing what they are doing will automatically make YOU healthy.

2) "Health" is not an extreme.  In a lot of the comments on the Marie Claire website, people talked about these bloggers as being something the rest of us Big Mac chowing Americans would do well to emulate.  Um, hello.  Did you not realize there is a ginormous freaking gap between a steady diet of french fries and marathons fueled by kale brownies?  To me, health is not health without joy, and joy comes from real brownies, not kale ones.  I exercise regularly, eat a very healthful diet most of the time, and I humor my sweet tooth when I can.  You can take steps to improve your life without following the dictates of a health blogger.  Are they healthy?  I don't know- that's between the bloggers and their doctors.  Which leads me to my next point:

3) "Health" is an individual definition.  People have tried to define health for centuries and have really come up with vague descriptions.  What someone else defines as health (such as kale brownies and marathons) might not be healthy for someone like me in recovery from an eating disorder.  I have to take steps to moderate my impulses to exercise.  Ultimately, you have to define health in your life.  That definition needn't be static--it can change with age, circumstance, you name it.

4) Bloggers have an obligation to their readers.  These obligations will be different based on different types of blogs, but, like it or not, bloggers have an obligation to their readers.  I see my obligations as being honest about my own recovery (the struggles and the victories), and not passing along information I believe to be unhealthy or uninformed.  I can't vouch that everything I write about is 100% accurate--no one can.  But I can (and do) refuse to write on subjects that will be obviously misconstrued, not in line with my own authenticity, and not anything I wouldn't tell someone to do.  I try to be careful and say how something (such as a meal plan) has been helpful to me, but a meal plan isn't universally helpful.

5) Your readers are listening.  This goes along with the point above.  If people are reading your blog, then they are listening to what you have to say.  They are absorbing this information.  Remember this.  Unless your blog is completely private, you are writing to an audience.  When you talk about how great your workout routine is (and then describe it in detail), people are going to copy you.  No, you aren't responsible for the fact that they do copy you and that people can be idiots (sorry, too many House reruns again), but you are responsible for being cognizant of what you say.

6) Obsession can masquerade as health.  I'm not saying anything about these bloggers in particular.  Like I said, I don't really read them and so I'm making no judgements.  But I do have to applaud the writer for bringing up the thorny cultural issue of health being used as a smokescreen for any number of obsessive behaviors.  Part of the problem is that most of the obsessed really think they're just being healthy.  They see nothing wrong, and the unending kudos from adoring blog readers probably doesn't make it any more likely that people will see the light.  Many eating disorders have started by a simple effort to be more healthy.  Soon, it becomes a life-threatening obsession, but how can you be sick if you're just trying really hard to be healthy?  It's a fine line and it's hard to find out where to draw it.

So those are my thoughts.  What do you think of health blogs?  Do you read them?  Why or why not?  Share in the comments.

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zette said...

hm...you astound me. you're a lovely creature&for some reason it's comforting to see that you seem to be doing well in our recovery. (don't read my blog. you'd kill me.) kudos to you.

Carrie Arnold said...


Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate them. Yes, I have read your blog and no I won't kill you! ;) I avoid non-recovery-oriented blogs not because they're triggering but because they make me sad. I wish I could give you a big hug and let you know that there are so many days when recovery just f*cking sucks but then there are times when it all starts to become worth it.

I'm always only an email away if you ever need me!

A said...

I actually tried some prune brownies recently, and they were amazing. I liked them better than the real brownies with loads of butter and sugar and such. (Sometime I'll have to make prune brownies with loads of butter and sugar--I bet that will be even better.)

The red bean brownies mentioned look pretty good, too, and it really is worth noting that the brownies were just one item in a long list of food the blogger said she ate that day, including lots of bread and pasta and other foods.

I actually did agree with the Marie Claire article when I first read it, but then I also read some of the blogs, and I feel like the article really misrepresented them.

I'm vegan, which is a diet a lot of people tend to dismiss as disordered, unhealthy, obsessional, restrictive, extreme, etc., but when I first went vegan it was actually enormously helpful to my recovery.

I started reading vegan blogs, and really focusing and caring about getting adequate amounts of fat and protein and other nutrients. A lot of vegan bloggers are really into making desserts and other less "healthy" vegan foods, and it's surprising how many desserts you can make vegan, and how many vegan alternatives you can buy these days.

I use past tense not because I don't eat like that now, because I do, but because it's just normal for me now. There have been times when I've slipped back into ED thinking, and made veganism into something restrictive (believe it or not, it doesn't feel restrictive at all if you do it right), and I have taken short breaks from it in those situations.

Okay, I guess my veganism isn't entirely relevant, but the hoopla surrounding the article made me think of criticisms I've heard or read of veganism. I absolutely think obsession can and often does masquerade as health (and believe me, that's a subject I can and do preach on for hours), but often health really is just health. I didn't feel like the author of that article was being fair to the bloggers.

Anyway, I'm not sure that any of that made sense. I wrote it off and on while watching Chuck online, so this is long and rambling. I think you made some really good points, and I agree with them.

Cathy (UK) said...

I read five online blogs regularly. One is yours. All the blogs I read are analytical and discursive with intelligent content. They enable the opportunity to debate. Three of the online blogs I read relate to ED-recovery and treatment, and two are general science blogs that have nothing to do with food or EDs.

I have seen some of these online blogs wherein people just provide recipes or photos of food that they eat. I think 'why'? 'what's the point?'. I have no interest in what other people eat and I dislike cooking. I don't find such blogs 'triggering'; they just bore me.

As for pro-anorexia/thinspiration blogs: I have occasionally looked at a couple of these to try to understand what pro-anorexia is about. I have concluded that I just don't 'get' pro-anorexia/thinspiration (and I refuse to give a mental illness 'cute' names like 'Ana', or 'Mia). I had AN for many years and it was not a lifestyle choice. Neither did I need crazy tips on 'how to be anorexic'. I had enough 'crap' going on in my own head that appeared of its own accord and which drove my AN (which was, BTW, a mental illness and not a lifestyle choice).

Katie said...

I used to read 'health' blogs when I started gaining weight, but once my obsession with food disappeared they lost interest. I think that sometimes unhealthy behaviours can be inadvertently promoted (I remember one of those six bloggers being hauled up by commenters on her daily amount of calories once, which seemed very low for someone who exercised so much, but this was about 18 months ago so I'm sure things have changed), but overall people with eating disorders are going to find many things triggering, not all of which are unhealthy. I never take anything I read online as fact and I make sure not to present anything I say on my own blog as the only or best way to do things. I do think bloggers have a responsibility towards their readers, but I also think that even with all the best will in the world, some people will be triggered or use healthy blogs in an unhealthy way.

Anonymous said...

HI Carrie, I just wanted to let you know, I absolutely love your blog. I recovered from AN several years ago, but am currently relapsing. Your writing is helping motivate me to start eating better again.

I absolutely agree with you that these hunger blogs are insane

Andrea said...

Excellent post. I think this article or something like it needed to be written to point out "sub-clinical" food/exercise isses, personally. While I don't think that all of the bloggers featured are victims of eating disorders, I think the problem is very real and does exist within the "health blogger" sphere. As someone who suffered from an eating disorder, I definitely feel prey to the comparison trap reading certain "healthy living blogs"- often because they were called just that. I failed to take into account what I think is a very good point in your assessment- the fact that health is different for everyone. For me, health will never entail running a marathon (or maybe running ever again) or eschewing baked goods and ice cream. As you said, there's an astronomical gap between the "obesity epidemic" and "clean eating" (though I hate both of those terms). Thanks for this :)

Danielle said...

Great post! & i agree, some bloggers are promoting some things that are.. really unhealthy (fasting for long periods of time). It's not a good thing to do because young people could be reading and it's not good for their health.

hm said...

People do get competitive, and the internet can be a way to prove to everyone how good you are at something. And your views on being "good at" something might be skewed. There are loads of places to get lost in if you're looking to justify your ED, AN or otherwise. My therapist pointed me to your blog instead of the ones I was looking at and it has been incredibly enlightening- so much more real than what I had my hands on. I think, Carrie, you are incredibly strong and I have wondered since I started following your blog if part of why you write it is to keep yourself accountable- now you have an audience, so you owe us to stay healthy. I don't know you, but you're pretty important to me. I like it that you respect the reader/writer relationship and want to honor it with truth. Thanks.

Carrie Arnold said...


You raise a really good point. First of all, those brownies sound really good. I love trying different stuff like that partly because I love experimenting in the kitchen.

But as you said, health can be health. I'm not sure how those bloggers were represented, in part because I haven't read enough of their blogs to say for sure. I think it's important to be able to discuss whether "health" concerns can cover up obsession without assuming anyone with a health focus is obsessed or throwing them under the bus.

I have several friends with multiple food allergies, and so I do read some vegan and health-oriented blogs when I'm looking for recipes to make when they come visit. So they can be very helpful.

Thanks for sharing!

Carrie Arnold said...


You nailed it. Some people have raised the question (and rightly so) as to whether this blog is a way for me to stay affiliated with ED stuff. It's something I have asked myself many times, and I can only conclude this: it keeps me affiliated with my own recovery. It has been a singularly positive influence, and I feel I owe my readers my honesty about my own recovery and the need to seek a higher level of care should that become necessary.

hm said...

The fact is, I'm utterly new and raw at this "recovery" idea. I am looking at you. Statistics are painfully low on who gets to be healthy and stay that way. You are, of course, only human and cannot be on top of things at all times. But it means a great deal to me that you try to do well, and that you share your journey as you do so. If we don't know where we're going, sometimes we need a model to imitate, a guide to follow. You provide this w/your writings. Thanks again, Carrie.

hm said...

p.s. Read Running on Empty. Shocked w/the truth of realizing that my secrets are not really mine- they are simply symptoms of a disorder. Mind-blowing. Felt like you betrayed the secrets of a secret society by being so blatantly honest about what's in your head- in anyone's head w/AN. Felt like making those secrets public strips people like me down naked. Could write a million things to you about the things you wrote, but a blog doesn't seem the place for it. But wanted to give you credit for your high regard for HONESTY- the polar opposite of what AN wants from you! Way to fight your internal demons.

Briony said...

I've never managed to more than glance at those sort of blogs without finding them insanely triggering. My eating disorder certainly started as an attempt to eat more healthily and start exercising. It's partly that they all exercise more than me, but I also think a part of me envies the control these people must have to live 'perfectly' healthily without losing control and descending into ED (if that makes sense).
I agree with all the points you made in your post, as well. I hate the way a lot of people see 'healthy' as cutting down on calories or living off vegetables- for some that may be true, but it certainly isn't for everyone. Health is about balance.

HikerRD said...

Another fabulous post!! One corrction--it isn't just House reruns you watch--I know that the "everyone lies" reference was from last nights latest episode!!
More seriously, points well taen re seemingly healthy as masquerade. I was thinking of doing a piece on vegetarianism and exactly that spin. Perhaps you'll see it sometime soon.
Also, my most recent post made me aware of the variability in individual interpretation of posts. Projecting onto what you read is somewhat diagnostic; just see the comments on my latest post on recovery.
Thanks again for a great post.
Lori Lieberman, RD, CDE, MPH, LDN

Sarah Owens said...

I love how you said Health is not an extreme. Anything done toooo extremely is not healthy! This is so important to remember as someone who is recovering from an ED. I also would read those and think of how awful my food intake was that day or how much I didn't work out. Constantly trying to compare myself to others, trying to be the best. ugh, its awful. So the blogs that I do read are ED recovery blogs that pump me up and get me through the day. Not health blogs, do I really need another information source saying that I am not good enough?

Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul said...

One of the best responses I've read. Bravo, Carrie.

Anonymous said...

I have a huge problem in struggling with my slowly worsening ED-NOS with a friend who is constantly blogging about her fitness routine and bragging about how much more fit she is than other people and bragging about her healthy vegan lifestyle and how many miles she's biked per day, etc. I've begun to hide her updates on facebook, etc, without telling her, and that hurts because she's a good friend in many ways. I do worry she's becoming obsessive. But every time I accidentally see he blog it sends me into a tailspin. I've tried talking to her about it and she doesn't understand. And well, I can't tell her what to blog about! do also suspect some issues of her own, although maybe I'm projecting.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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