Whose disorder is it anyway?

Sometimes, this world just makes me wonder. Several times this past week (on TV, in the grocery store, and on a menu), I have seen "guilt-free" products advertised. You know "pasta without the guilt" or "this type of meat is super low-fat, so you can eat it without guilt!"

There are many reasons I don't like these types of ads (because...we're supposed to feel guilty when we eat?) but right now, they're really frosting my (full fat) cookies because I hate it when my disordered thinking seems normal. Granted, the few items I would allow myself to eat in minimal amounts without guilt were both paltry and pathetic, but still. It's the same idea. I felt guilty if I ate anything besides these four items at the wrong time or in the wrong amounts. These foods had some sort of magical air about them, that they were sacrosanct, and I could never go wrong eating them.

And here I go, back into the "real world," trying to recover again, only to learn, again, that most of the world is really screwed up about eating. It would be SO MUCH EASIER if I could just figure out if my thoughts were being driven by the eating disorder, or if they were my own thoughts. And when you can almost reliably go into a restaurant or grocery store and find little slogans that could have sprung from your eating disordered brain, well, it's screwing with me.

I saw an ad for milk yesterday that trumpeted the benefits of low-fat and fat-free milk. Um, I'm drinking whole milk for the foreseeable future, and thanks Milk Council, for the reminder that I'm a freak. Yes, I know, most people don't need to regain X pounds, but still. And then a little TV segment for making a blueberry smoothie. I love blueberries, I love smoothies, so I watched to see what the lady was doing. She used fat-free yogurt and fat-free milk- "all of the nutrients, none of the fat!" she chirped. I'm sorry, but my dietitian has been telling me for years that fat is a necessary part of the diet. Even with my (relatively) short relapse, the lack of fat has led to colorful bruises all over my knees, brittle nails, and really dry hair. And last time I checked (a decade ago in biochem and five seconds ago on Google), fat was still a nutrient. So skim milk doesn't have quite the same nutrients as whole milk. My parents drink skim--there's a hella lotta milk in the house right now--and I don't necessarily care, but they're not the same, and one is not better than the other.

Maybe I'm over-reacting. Maybe I'm over-sensitive. Both are probably true. But it irritates me. It's hard enough to recognize ED thinking within the confines of my own skull because I've heard it for so long and bought into it for so long and this damn disease distorts reality so well that it sure seems real to me. So when our whole freaking culture buys into the idea--lock, stock, and barrel--that low fat is better than "regular," that we should feel guilty for not eating the lowest calorie item in the store or on the menu, that we should download the latest iPhone app to keep track of our food intake, I can't help but feel betrayed. I know "they" aren't doing it specifically to piss me off, but it still feels incredibly unfair.

When I started trying to sort my way through the OCD that dogged me through high school, I had a fair amount of certainty that circling the block because you thought you'd hit a duck, or scrubbing your hands with Clorox because you were petrified that you would give someone a fatal disease were abnormal behaviors. I knew they were screwy even if in the moment I felt compelled to do my rituals. I also have some amount of awareness that a steady diet of sugar-free yogurt, apples, and lettuce is also screwy (even if in the moment I felt compelled to eat them and then frenetically exercise those calories off), but so much of the ED mindset seems so normal. Parents don't necessarily worry at first when their children kvetch about their stomachs and butts, or they don't want mayo on their turkey sandwich anymore because those "hidden fats" make a huge difference, simply because it's so normal. And most kids who say and do these things won't develop eating disorders--but some will.

When you're fighting your way out of a seriously messed up value system, only to find that your values are simply extreme versions of what the vast majority of people are thinking, you have to stop and ask: whose disorder is it anyway?


Gayle said...

Fantastic post as always. Very well said!

Libby said...

You make so much sense here... so much sense.

Tempy said...

I saw the blueberry smoothie segment too. At first I was so excited until I realized what she was pushing.

Mrs. Gleason said...

I read your blog frequently but hardly ever comment...I am a recovering anorexic as well, and I whole-heartedly agree with this post. The commercials that are driving me nuts lately are all of the ones that are focusing on "bathing suit season" and show the women who are terrified of putting on a bikini... it's so hard to re-enter a world of "normalcy" when the outside world is so messed up anyway about food / eating / bodies.

Gwen said...

Betrayed it such a perfect word for the way I feel about our culture. Living recovery from an eating disorder is so hard because honestly? I look more like a freak when I'm doing well than when I'm terribly sick. I'm noticing more and more the word "guilt" in relation to eating, on TV, in ads, in newspaper articles. It's infuriating. What kind of message are we sending to our next generation with all the anti obesity programs? Thanks for a great post. It's really great to know I'm not the only one who finds our culture annoying when it comes to food and diet. I'm so glad you're eating full fat, non diet. I'm rooting for you!

lynn said...

Great observations!

Anonymous said...

So true.

Here in Aus there are two commercials in particular that really demonise kilojoules (calories) and fat/sugar. One has a cop pull people up and tell them to go for a walk because they had "full fat/sugar flavoured milk"
And the other is about a "order of calories" going straight to some woman's thighs. *sigh* I hate these ads that demonise food.

It is so frustrating and makes it difficult to let go of food fears when they are thrown back at you.

Sorry I've turned my comment into a rant...

Lauren said...

Yes, yes, yes and yes! I've been struggling with ED for 13 years and just entered a recovery program for the first time three months ago, and I'm starting to understand partly why I denied the severity of my illness so long and why I kept putting off treatment: I seemed normal -- to myself and probably others close to me.

With the culture and attitudes you describe so well in this post, it's SO easy to blend in and let our eating disorders run -- and ruin -- our lives, especially if we appear physically healthy.

So I'm curious to know what others do when faced with eating-disordered thoughts from non-eating-disordered people. Quick example: A co-worker of mine who's always on a diet learns there are muffins in the breakroom for the taking. She stands up and says: "Well, since I didn't eat anything bad today, I'm going to let myself have a muffin." That same co-worker, later in the week, puts cookies in the breakroom to share and tells me, "Don't worry; they're pretty low-calorie for a cookie." Both times, I wanted to let loose with all the healthy things I'm learning in treatment but thought it wasn't my place. Or was it?

Kim said...

I did a post a little while ago called "You know you're in relapse when..." It was a comic way to look at relapse and eating disorder behaviors. A reader pointed out that many of things I listed as "sick" (i.e. having a pair of skinny pants to try on, weighing every day, etc) are actually encouraged in our society as "healthy" dieting. I didn't even realize. Society is very difficult in that way. Honestly, I just don't watch TV much anymore. I use my DVR so I can skip through commercials for the shows I do watch. And I don't read magazines at all. It's impossible to escape all of it though. It gets really hard to listen to your body when there are all these other messages. I guess it's just empowering to have a F*&k it attitude and eat what YOU need. Screw everyone else!

I Hate to Weight said...

you said it perfectly! i agree 100%

one thing i thought was odd. i took my niece to buy clothes at Lane Bryant. they have beautiful clothes and the sales people were lovely and helped us so much. my niece felt comfortable and pretty and important.

here was the weird thing -- the sales people (plus-size and beautifully turned out in lane Bryant attire) kept steering her toward "slimming" clothes.

i don't get it -- isn't she supposed to be fine, better than fine, just the way she is?


Anonymous said...

I love this post, and I wish it could get WIDESPREAD publicity. I am not even suffering from an ED and the very words "fat free" make me want to scream. What's even worse is that now parents are being encouraged to give CHILDREN low-fat and fat-free foods and that cannot be a good thing. And I can see around me that they are happily doing so. In our refrig at work, every single dairy product except mine are low fat or fat free- mostly the latter. I never have to worry about anyone using my full-fat milk, yogurt, or - gasp - butter! And I thought, from a weight- loss perspective for those focussed on that, the whole fat-free idea had been debunked. I guess not. And don't get me started on the idea of "guilt" or "bad food". Those are terms that don't even belong in a discussion about food.

I hope you are doing well, and that you are enjoying some REAL ice cream.

Anonymous said...

It really is true. In fact I would go so far as to say society has no problem with someone developing a restricting eating disorder until they begin to look emaciated. In fact, by denying yourself almost everything with fat in it or that tastes good people admire your "self-control".

sarah-j said...

It's all too true. However, I think it's so good that we can recognise the craziness and in recognising it FIGHT BACK against it. The same kinds of things have been driving me crazy as well and I live on the other side of the world to you guys, but yet I feel empowered by reading about even a slight resistance to the pervasive message of compulsory thinness.

Just as an aside, I don't know if you guys are troubled over in the US by an ad campaign for a cereal called Special K..... it's truly horrible. Their latest one involves the idea of making your bikini less 'scary' for the summer and pictures of a bikini that's meant to resemble an evil face. They advocate a two week programme for losing weight, which involves plenty of their cereal and not a huge amount else as a means to this illustrious end. I find it really hard to walk past the giant posters in the mall where I work without making a rude gesture and swearing under my breath, subtly.....but sometimes not so subtly and therein lies the problem. Haha, maybe that's a bit too weird and I should find a more constructive way to fight the horribleness.

Peace! (+ love and food.)

Jessie said...

I just recently found your blog, and I want to say that I could not agree more with every point you make in this post. Yes, fat is a nutrient, as my med-student sister is constantly reminding me.

When I was very sick I used to think that what made "normal" people different from me was that they could eat and then move on with their lives without perseverating on whatever bite(s) of food happened to pass their lips. Now I realize that's not true, and it makes it so easy for me to fool myself into thinking that I really don't have a problem. I mean if everyone else in the world is counting calories and buying skim milk, shouldn't I be doing it too?

Thanks for putting a truly healthy viewpoint out there.

The Thrifty Book Nerd said...

Beautiful post! Amen sister, I agree with what you said.

Unknown said...

yes, our society has an f-ed up approach to food, there is no way around that

Anonymous said...

good timing- I spent y'day trying to defend the merits of *any* kind of milk to my fellow med students!!

we just had biochemistry!!! they have *no* excuse for believing this nonsense.it's worth noting that this conversation was over food whose health status is decidely more debatable than milk! (hot dogs, steak, s'mores-- goood food, but really? you're gonna tell me that milk is evil a you're on hot dog #3?)

I've come to accept that I think in a non-mainstream way fairly often, so I try to remind myself of this when I get caught up in the diet/beachwear prattering.

Why is it okay for me to think differently w/r/t politics, money, career goals etc but I feel guilty for drinking milkshakes?

Oh yeah, because I'm crazy.

I'm a confrontational person by nature, so I tend to cite a few studies & ask people who'll argue that (some) foods are bad where they get their information.

I'm more at a loss for words when women just start bitching about their bodies. It happens everywhere- in class, at practices & in the locker rooms...smart, professional women reduce themselves to this pettiness. I hate it. But I feel like proclaiming a love for my own body (with varying degrees of truth, based on where I'm at...) is too caustic. So I just ignore it. It doesn't make hate my own body anymore or less- it makes me feel sad that this is the norm, that this is where people are putting their energy.

Carrie Arnold said...

Wow- thanks for the feedback.

I tend not to say a whole lot to other people, in part because most people I know casually (ie, who would know NOT to say something about how great skim milk is) don't know about my eating disorder and I'd kind of like to keep it that way. Although I have let my mouth rip, depending on the time of the month--let's just say the "P" in "PMS" should really stand for "pugnacious."

Although one girl at work said she "really shouldn't" eat a cookie on a platter of leftovers from a manager's lunch meeting, and I asked (nicely) "Why?" And she gave the standard oh-I've-eaten-too-much-don't-you-know-it's-bathing-suit-season, and I said "So? If you want it, eat it. It is just a cookie."

Anonymous said...

I know! It's insane. I work at a grocery store and I'm very far along in my recovery. I have to bite my tongue several times each shift as customers comment to me about the food they're buying, etc. One woman asked me to read the ingredients on a package to her, and when I read 'sugar' she said, "That's all I need to know. Sugar is killing our country!" and told me she didn't want it. I wanted to bite her head off! People are so gullible and eager to believe pretty much anything these days.
I'm glad you're home refeeding and hanging in there! I love your blog and really admire you. I'm on the tail end of restoring to a healthy weight and it's the hardest and most satisfying thing I've ever done; keep fighting and striving!

Anonymous said...

Blueberry Smoothie:

Put about 8 ounces of whole-milk plain yogurt (preferably from grass-fed cows) into blender. Add a half cup or so (or more!) blueberries, preferably frozen, and a dollop of honey. Blend until smooth.

Carrie Arnold said...

I've asked for a yogurt maker for my bday so I can make my own whole milk yogurt. The only whole milk yogurt I can find at the store is prohibitively expensive, and then I can add my own flavors, etc.

I have to drink an Ensure Plus every day, and turning the vanilla Ensure into a blueberry smoothie makes it much more palatable! I've also made banana-berry shakes with plain yogurt and a bit of milk to make it more drinkable.

Anonymous said...

Sweet Carrie,
there are lots of ways to make yogurt, no fancy equipment needed.
Just hit Google.
~I love your blog and I'm glad you are recovering.M

Anonymous said...

I entirely agree. And it makes recovery incredibly tough! I've been anorexic for so long that I forget what it is like to be "normal." When I observe the eating behaviors exhibited by my friends and families, I quickly become disillusioned and discouraged. What does "normal" mean? I feel "disordered" when I eat a balanced meal because "disordered" eating has become the norm in today's society...

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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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