What's so different?

Other members of the Academy for Eating Disorders alerted me to this upsetting/appalling/annoying article in Bicycling Magazine.  It's so awful that I'm not going to link to it for any number of reasons: lots of height/weight stats, weight loss stats, and I also don't want to give the article any more traffic than it's already getting.


{{That said, if you're really interested or don't believe that I'm not making these things up, email me at carrie@edbites.com and I'll send you a link.}}

The article is about how pro cyclists Lost Weight! Blasted Off Fat! and Shed Pounds!  I don't read these stories,  mostly because they're really boring.  They follow the same story line.  They have the same generic advice.

But this article read more like a pro-ana selection or How To Have An Eating Disorder than your run-of-the-mill weight loss guide.

Some stellar clips from various cyclists:

[His] hard-core routine isn't for the faint of heart: He doesn't eat after 7 p.m., and he often does a 30- to 60-minute run, ride or hike before breakfast.

Even after a huge day of training, if I fueled properly throughout and after the ride, I can usually get away with eating just some salad or steamed or grilled vegetables with a small amount of lean protein.


Studies have shown that simply chewing your food longer--as many as 100 times per bite, in some research--results in reduced caloric intake. Hold also began chewing gum at the first craving for food. She says it gives her time to decide, "Am I really hungry or am I bored, nervous or stressed? I find in many cases, I just chew some gum and I don't really need food."


"As soon as I notice that I've gained a couple pounds, I immediately adjust what I'm eating and increase my exercise," he says.

Like I said, it sounds a lot like eating disordered behaviors to me.

Reading things like this really raises my hackles, even above and beyond the distribution of dangerous and potentially deadly advice.  It irritates me because other people's eating disordered behaviors are given the green light whereas mine are practically illegal.  Somehow, my psychiatric stamp of "ANOREXIC" makes a massive difference?

I get that these behaviors aren't healthy whether your psychiatric passport has an eating disorder stamp or not.  But I find our culture's very paradoxical attitude towards eating disorders frustrating.  On the one hand, the public is fascinated and horrified about people who spend their lives with their heads in the toilets or become emaciated.  And yet there's a general endorsement of the behaviors that result from an eating disorder.

So what gives?

The ED part of my brain is, I confess, a little jealous.  Why didn't my exercise regime get lauded?  Why can't I do these "wonderful" things that these cyclists are doing?  What makes them so different from me?

The answer is: not much.

Ultimately, these cyclists are playing with fire.  These regimes are dangerous, and promoting them even more so.  I hate that our society approves of so many disordered eating behaviors.  And not just approves, but encourages and promotes.  Then everyone wonders why eating disorders are so difficult to treat.  No, culture isn't the whole reason, but it is one massive hurdle.

What do you think? How do you counter society's messed-up messages about food and weight?

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

i have read the article to which you are referring, and must say that i don't really see it as promoting eating disorders or disordered eating at all. sure, to those of us who are already obsessed with losing weight, any weight loss tips will feed directly into that obsession. but these people are not emaciated (there are photographs), have plenty of muscle (as many cyclists and other sportspeople do), and fundamentally are thinking of food as fuel for activity rather than some highly charged emotional object, good or bad. i have struggled/do struggle with disordered eating, and reading an article like this actually helps me to think of food as fuel rather than something that makes me feel good or bad. if somebody is eating plenty throughout the day, calculating how much their body needs, and purposefully eats enough earlier so that an evening meal is relatively small, i don't think that's eating disordered. of course, many athletes including cyclists are eating disordered, but it doesn't mean that particular individuals are if they prefer to keep their eating very routine and ordered. i mean, i much prefer having a really strict routine around eating because otherwise i feel like bingeing all the time. people recovering from anorexia often seem to follow a meal plan really rigidly. some of the people in this article have lost a lot of weight, so it's hardly surprising they would want a routine that would keep them healthy and happy. routine, and dedication to a sport - for the sake of the sport, not for the sake of losing weight - does not automatically equate to eating disorder.

i'm pretty sure this won't change your mind in the slightest, but before reading your take on it i have never associated this article with eating disordered people.

Samantha C. said...

I think one of the biggest things I've learned from your blog and from the Fat Acceptance community is how many things I grew up with as normal are actually, at the least, off-kilter, if not actually disordered. Is the gum-chewing thing really considered a disordered behavior? =/ That was one of the first things I was taught as part of "not eating too much". Of course, there are times when I'm really full and still craving sweet or the tactile sensation of chewing, and gum can be helpful there....I'm zeroing in on that one just cause that's something I actually do.

It is so hard to distinguish what's normal, what's healthy, what's both normal and unhealthy and what's both healthy and abnormal. Especially with stuff like this and Biggest Loser and magazine covers splashed with numbers and weights and calories

Ally said...

Part of me wants to agree with your 'it's not fair, why do they get to have disordered eating patterns, overexercise and then show off about it?' feeling. But I suppose at the end of the day, we could do all that as well - but we choose not to for our own health. We know more than they do about the consequences of these actions (as tempting as they may be). And the people who step in to prevent us don't do it to be mean, or to exclude us from a wider society who still are allowed to play these games - the do it for our safety.
Sucks sometimes though, and articles like this don't help anyone really, do they?

Katie said...

There are definitely a few disordered comments in there, but then disordered eating is common among athletes and athletes are common among eating disordered people. I think this sort of advice is on the line between societally "acceptable" dietary restraint and disordered eating, but I also think the boundary of acceptable is in the wrong place. I wish to heck that intuitive eating would catch on as strongly as half of the dangerous diets out there. People don't NEED to control their weight if they don't have an eating disorder and/or their eating behaviours are not negatively affecting their health/functioning. I understand why people with eating disorders micromanage their diets - they have a mental illness - but why it's seen as a healthy behaviour in people without EDs I do not know.

This is why I avoid running magazines these days...

hm said...

My first thought is that it would be a good thing to post a link here to that other article, the one that talks about the flip side, how too much exercise can harm the heart.

I'll probably have further thoughts later, but in the meantime, that other article would be a great counterargument to these statements.

kazehana said...

I feel like the term "disordered" is being used to cover a range of behaviors not specific enough to actually qualify as dangerous or abnormal.

Athletes treat their bodies like performance machines. Their livelihood depends on how well their bodies perform under certain circumstances and conditions. If weighing less is a part of increased performance, then it is.

But a disorder implies that the way you're eating, the way you're pushing your body is to your own detriment, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Normal weight loss/weight control involves many of the same tools that persons with eating disorders use; the disordered person however lacks the balance, perspective or general peace of mind in connection with these behaviors.

It's just like the difference between someone who has a drink with dinner once in a while and a person who is an alcoholic. Both consume alcohol; but one of them is unable to control their usage even in the face of the overwhelming negative consequences.

azhe'n said...

Carrie, I don't really know what's so different except what's in my head vs. what may be in theirs. I agree it's playing with fire. When you think that two more pounds will get you those extra ten seconds and then you increase an already huge amount of exercise that is dangerous. And that's only my opinion. I know in my first group in years on Monday I was expressly told to write down every piece of gum I chew because it's a 'substitute' behavior. I cringed but yeah it's true and I hear you.
For now, because my energy is super low, I'm writing to politicians because I'm also a veteran and while people are lobbying on Capitol Hill one whole population of ED sufferers are basically being ignored. It is hard as hell to walk through this and to find a way to DO SOMETHING, too, but I'm trying.

FantasyGirl said...

It annoys me how many people do not really know what an eating disorder is and that allows for these kinds of things to pop up. I guess I can't really be annoyed since there is a lack of education about what they are, but I guess I can be annoyed at the lack of education.

Maybe this works for these people, but it doesn't sound like it's very healthy for them at all. If you work out that much, I think you're allowed to eat more than just a salad.

scottrecovered said...

it is quite bad :( I know, as a cyclist, that diet is quite often discussed, and I think it is probably a lot of what led to my eating disorder. But all of society is that way, and it is so sad :(

hm said...

First thought (I think there will be more) is this:

"Studies have shown that simply chewing your food longer--as many as 100 times per bite, in some research--results in reduced caloric intake."

What an idiotic thing to say. That seems to imply that food magically loses calories the longer it is chewed. Chewing burns calories (duh- it's activity) so all you're doing is burning more calories as you consume the same amount of calories. They might as well say, "Studies have shown that simply jumping up and down while eating--as many as 100 jumps for each bite, in some research--results in reduced caloric intake."

Stupid.

I might have more thoughts to share later. Hmmm.

hm said...

Of course, they MIGHT have meant that chewing so freaking much reduces caloric intake simply b/c you're so damn sick of chewing so much and so long that you eat less. Therefore, reduced caloric intake.

It's still dumb.

hm said...

Not done. Here's more thoughts.

"She says [chewing gum] gives her time to decide, "Am I really hungry or am I bored, nervous or stressed? I find in many cases, I just chew some gum and I don't really need food.""

Know what else helps you think you don't need food, besides chewing gum? Ignoring your hunger. Yep- starving yourself. Ignore your hunger long enough and it just gives up and disappears. So I would like to rephrase this statement also, to something equally ridiculous:

"She says [calling herself a fat pig and ignoring her hunger pains] gives her time to decide, "Am I really hungry or am I bored, nervous or stressed? I find in many cases, I just [beat myself up mentally] and I don't really need food.""

Hmph.

hm said...

Still not done.

"Even after a huge day of training, if I fueled properly throughout and after the ride, I can usually get away with eating just some salad or steamed or grilled vegetables with a small amount of lean protein."

This person is obviously disordered. No decent nutritionist would support that statement. Here is a good article explaining what ACTUALLY needs to take place, nutritionally, after any strenuous exercise:

http://sportsmedicine.about.com/cs/nutrition/a/aa081403.htm

My dietitian says, the body takes from wherever it can. If we supply it with nourishment, it will take from there. If we don't, it will take from our muscles. Guess what the heart is? A big old muscle. This guy is looking to strip his heart bare and fall dead of a heart attack.

My rephrase of the above:

"Even after a huge day of training, if I fueled properly throughout and after the ride, I can usually get away with [starving myself all evening, but not dying from it... yet]."

hm said...

Last one, I think- sorry- just couldn't leave this one alone-

"[His] hard-core routine isn't for the faint of heart: He doesn't eat after 7 p.m., and he often does a 30- to 60-minute run, ride or hike before breakfast."

...becomes...

"[His] hard-core routine is for those who wish to die of a heart attack: He starves himself all evening, and he often does a 30- to 60-minute run, ride or hike to mentally earn his breakfast."

NOW I'm done.

Katie said...

I'm giggling a bit at hm's comments now (wish I knew your secret identity hm, I think we would get on well!), but yeah, I thought similar things. I can actually understand how working out before breakfast could be a good routine, because personally whenever I've been into running in the past I get horrific cramps if I run anything up to three hours after eating. If I was working and wanted to run before work (unlikely, I am not a morning person!) I would have to get up at 4am, eat breakfast, go back to sleep, go for a run around 7...actually even then I'd probably be late for work. So I get that. But not eating after seven is a weird rule, as is only eating salad after a day of working out. As is chewing gum to trick yourself into not feeling hungry. It's these sort of behaviours that people don't notice are unnatural and damaging because the person doesn't "look sick". But there's physical damage (like the heart problems in athletes Cammy posted about yesterday, or the fact that lower weight people are more prone to osteoporosis regardless of whether they had an ED or not) and there's mental damage. Even if it doesn't turn into a fully fledged eating disorder, ignoring your hunger and restricting your diet can lead to social isolation, more disordered thoughts and behaviours, depression, anxiety over breaking routines, and sometimes overtly dangerous behaviours like occasional bingeing and purging. Bodies do not like being ignored.

I don't feel jealous of these people - I would have done eighteen months or so ago, I would have been resentful that they were "allowed" to restrict while I had to gain weight. Now I just feel kind of sad for them. I hope they are all well over the line between healthy and restrictive, but from these quotes it does sound unlikely.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Katie. I was a long-time subscriber of Runner's World, and loved the articles on how to train for long races, how to increase speed, how to avoid injury, what are the best running shoes, etc. But when it started to obsess with weight loss (which was not even remotely the reason I started running over 30 years ago), I got turned off and cancelled my subscription. In my letter informing them, I told them they reminded me of old Cosmo magazines (new Cosmo magazines could be the same but I haven't read it since my teens) - every issue had a featured diet or weight loss tip. I got no response, and Runner's World has gotten worse, not better. And I never read so-called womens' magazines except in a doctor's office waiting room where they don't have Sports Illustrated. So I say the best way to "vote" is by not buying or subscribing to this crap and read a good book or the internet instead.

Annie

KL said...

Honestly, these kinds of articles make me want to scream! I feel like popular media is only focusing on the extremes. Never mind that most of us land somewhere in the middle. Just after there first of the year there are always tons of "how I lost it...the new you and Amazing weight loss tales" issues of every magazine. Some feature sane/realistic information and advice. Some are extreme like the article that you mentioned. Reguardless, EVERYONE seems to be having the same converstaion "LOSE WEIGHT!"

It's exhausting to me - and frankly sad. I get that there is a good portion of the country that could stand to be more active. They could stand to put down the remote and go for a walk. I wonder if that message might be more effectively communicated while avoiding extremes.

Cathy (UK) said...

In the 1980s and 1990s, when I used to read a lot of running magazines and did an unhealthy amount of running, cycling and swimming (and kidded myself that I was 'being healthy'...), these types of magazine focused on the importance of ensuring athletes balanced their energy expenditure with an adequate energy intake. Carbohydrate loading regimes were popular. I'm actually surprised that a cycling magazine is encouraging what is effectively dieting behaviour because good cyclists EAT! The average Tour de France cyclist consumes 6,000-9,000 kcal per day - and more when competing.

I have done a lot of research with endurance athletes and it is only those who eat well that manage to sustain training and competition. The restrictors fall by the wayside with illness and injury, and worse still overtraining syndrome, which is similar to M.E.

On that basis, I would suggest that the article (which I have not read) is somewhat inaccurate, and was most likely written by a rather clueless journalist.

Cathy (UK) said...

So in regard to your question: "How do you counter society's messed-up messages about food and weight?"

It was difficult at first during my recovery, because I found these things 'triggering'. However, I also knew that, as described above, good athletes EAT, even the lean ones.

Some of my Facebook friends are top athletes I have worked with or taught. My attitude nowadays is: 'they do what they do and I do what I do.' It simply HAS to be that way, otherwise I would screw myself up completely.

Briony said...

I don't read running/cycling magazines, but I think it's certainly true that behaviours which might be taken as 'disordered' in some people are celebrated in others- things like ignoring your hunger, or eschewing certain food groups, or losing half your body weight as quickly as possible.
It also seems to be accepted as completely normal for women to hate their bodies, or to see calories as evil (rather than a measure of the energy in food- enery which we happen to need to live). I completely agree with Katie that "the boundary of acceptable is in the wrong place".
I suppose one difference between 'normal' dieting and an eating disorder is that the ED sufferer is interested in losing weight for the wrong reasons (self-harm, minimising anxiety) whereas other people have slightly more acceptable reasons to do so (looking better in swimwear, cycling that little bit faster). But still, it's a thin line and I don't think it applies in all cases.
All I can do on reading articles on diet and exercise regimes is remind myself that I know what I need to be healthy, and what other people are doing doesn't affect that. I could follow their regimes, but at what cost?

HikerRD said...

Wow, so much to "unpack" from the great post and comments, so I'll try to summarize.
-most of these athletes are no less disordered (than the rest of you) and their drive for performance, professional of not, doesn't justify denying needs for fuel, using tricks or strategies to minimize necessary intake.
-this article exposes what many of us see in practice daily--that seemingly healthy athletes, living in a culture that reinforces exercise at all costs, to all levels, are living with undiagnosed eating disorders.
-the distances and training they do are not the issue. That is, if they fuel themselves adequately to support their physical activity. The strategies described will likely fail to do that. For instance, I ride a 175 mile fundraising ride once a year, and I never fail to maintain or even gain a bit during training (perhaps because I am hyper focused on getting enough fuel!)
-Be careful who you get your information from! I have heard the most outrageous nutrition info from trainers, many of whom would meet the criteria for an eating disorder.
-As for a double standard in men, take a look at a book called "The Adonis Complex" which shows the pressure on young men to bulk up and achieve an absurd level of "fitness".

Thanks, Carrie, for sharing this.

Dana Udall-Weiner said...

Yikes. This is why I struggle with the fitness industry, because so many of its messages about "health" are really quite detrimental (and very pro-diet). The cyclists, as you say, are playing with fire. And the magazine seems a bit irresponsible to me, too.

M said...

Thanks for your honesty. I too am at the stage where I struggle not to think: 'It's not fair! If I did that, I'm told it is 'disordered'. You do that and get an article written about how good and disciplined you are.'

Yet once again I stop and remind myself - what have I got to lose by acting on those thought and obsessions? My health, my sanity, my life. So I stop. Swallow the bitter pill and eat that damned snack and get on with it!

Michael Hines said...

Hi there,

I agree with some of the things that they say and do not think it is a complete promotion of eating disorders. Although some of it sounds a bit out there!

I always do not eat after 7pm at night because I am a strong believer in not what you eat, but when you eat it throughout the day.

I also do agree with fueling your body properly before and after a workout because that is when your body will use up most of it's energy. If you do not fuel your body after a workout, it will attack the muscle mass instead of getting energy from the food.

However, I do not agree with the whole idea of chewing gum to see if you are hungry or just bored! To me that is ridiculous.

If you chew gum, your mind already thinks that you are ready to swallow your food and tells the stomach to prepare itself for digestion. Now if there is nothing to digest, the stomach has done all that work for nothing and that leads to constipation and bloating! Not good at all for you.

Thank you anyway for sharing this. It is great to see people challenging others when it comes to health and fitness. This is a great blog and one that I will gladly visit again.

Michael

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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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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote



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