Thursday, October 23, 2008

the thin line between self-preservation and self-destruction

ladies and gentleman, this is r.

r, these are the ladies and gentlemen who read my blog.

i'd been talking about wanting to invite folks to serve as contributors on my blog from time to time (navel-gazing gets old, wouldn't you agree?), and r volunteered.

"perfect!" i thought. "she's a helluva good writer AND was a screwy eater for years!"

r and i have been friends since her freshman year and my junior year in college. we were roommates for one year during which i think i can go so far as to say that r subsisted on Baked Lays, Diet Coke, and midnight runs, while i subsisted on Hamburger Helper (with extra cheese), regular Coke, and as an avid devotee of the Couch PotaTaoism Anti-Movement. r has struggled with her fair share of ED and body image issues, and she, after years of work and ups and downs, has finally come to a place of peace about it all. doesn't mean she still doesn't get pissed however when she sees unhealthy diet advice in the media.

I told Jillian that some of my habits--flushing rice down the toilet so I won't eat it, bringing my own high-fiber bread to brunch--stirred some controversy on the blog. "Why?" she asked. "Why should we apologize for the practices that help us manage the symptoms while we deal with the real reasons we eat? I pour candle wax on my food at restaurants," Jillian admitted. "Not wanting to 'waste food' is a poor excuse for ending up far worse off later on, dealing with all the health problems that come with obesity."
I just stumbled on this blog by Margarita Bertsos called "Margarita Shapes Up," though most of the posts seem pretty fixated on weight loss only. It's for Glamour magazine, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at the weight-obsession.

This particular blog post centered on her meeting Jillian Michaels, one of the trainers from the reality show, "The Biggest Loser." If you don't know the show, it follows two teams of overweight "contestants" as they, as far as I can tell, go to extreme measures to lose enormous amounts of weight in an effort to be healthier and, of course, win a bunch of money. I confess I am both fascinated and repelled by the show- it's like what I imagine a "fat camp" to be like, yet I can't help but beam along with them each week as they (humiliatingly) step on this ginormous scale and find out they've lost 10 pounds in a week. Right. Healthy.

Anyway, this first tip shocked me. This is the kind of behavior, and justification of such, I used not only when I was in the thick of my "recovery" from anorexia, but also numerous times in my life when my disordered eating patterns were slithering back into place. Actually, I remember reading an article about some celebrity who said she dumped the contents of the salt shaker (servers LOVE her) on a dessert after a couple of bites so she wouldn't be tempted to eat more, and a lightbulb went off in my head- "why have I never thought of that?!?!" Of course, the magazine praised her discipline and ingenuity, much as Ms. Michaels does to Ms. Bertsos.

I love the seemingly sound reasoning here: "manage the symptoms while dealing with the real reasons we eat." While Ms. Michaels might be self-evolved enough to be dealing with the reasons she eats, the truth is most of us are not interested in why we binge, or starve, or purge. That's too hard, too painful, too intensive. No, we want someone to tell us how to get and stay skinny, and flushing food or pouring candle wax on our food in order to stop eating before we are truly satiated sounds like a pretty thorough way to do so. Much more final than say, throwing it in the garbage where it can be retrieved because YOU WEREN'T FINISHED, but felt guilty/ashamed/embarrassed for eating whatever it was. Yes, I have.

This is preservation, all right. It's maintaining the same sort of state of mind that focuses on what it looks like when you eat all the fries, order your own damn dessert, choose a salad when you really want the fish and chips. Cause if you say, "screw it, I'm eating what I really want this meal," you just might find yourself not worrying about exactly when to tip that candle over your plate. Might just find yourself not obsessing about your food AT ALL. That's a state worth preserving.

what do you think of jillian's advice?


MelissaS said...

what a hot topic for me -- recovering anorexic, bulimic and compulsive eater. thanks mom -- i've been a diet since i was in the low single digits. i know it's so important to learn to eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full. and equally important to eat the foods you want, instead of lettuce with balsamic )or in the anorexia heyday lettuce with balsamic, ketchup and mustard, light on the lettuce.

still, i like being a healthy size 8, and some parts of likes to restrict and one big part of me LOVES TO BINGE. so, sometimes i do "ruin food" by pouring something gross on it. or i do throw out extra food WHEN I'M SATIATED, because i don't want to go beyond that beyond. going beyond satiation or starving is all so habitual.

net, net and sorry for this long post, i'm not sure where i stand on jillian's advice. although jillian herself kind of annoys me. thanks for asking this important question.

Annie T AKA Agnes Mildew said...

I don't have the 'pleasure' of this programme in the UK (thank God), but the woman sounds like she is completely advocating dreadful eating habits. They are deceitful and abnormal...and sound very much like those any ED sufferer will employ. I think she ought to be taken off air and asked to work in an ED inpatient clinic as a volunteer for a few months. Then she might see what damage she is advocating.

hope505 said...

EDNOS in the house. First of all I was shocked - shocked!! - to read that Jillian is pouring candle wax on her food. Flushing food down the toilet, candle wax, pouring salt all over it, or otherwise "ruining" food is distorted behavior. It is behavior that the majority of people on earth do not engage in. So it does make me uncomfortable to read about women doing this and thinking they're just practicing a 'diet trick' or following a tip from someone on how to stay slim. If you wouldn't behave that way in front of your best friend or in front of a child, don't do it to yourself either! Can you imagine pouring salt all over a little girl's ice cream if she happens to set down her spoon? Nightmare!

Danielle Mari said...

What a great post, first of all. Thank you for asking this. (You inspired me to post on my blog!)

I'm conflicted. When I first read the post, I at once: mourned the idea of ruining any dessert, felt disgusted and angry at someone prescribing this, believed it only enabled the core sickness... Then I read melissas' comment and wondered who I am to judge if it brings her comfort.

After further reflection, I just think Jillian misses the point. Eating disorders have nothing to do with food- alcoholism has nothing to do with alcohol. The core issue remains there festering whether you pour salt on your Hagen Daaz (GOD NO!) or not.

Stina said...

Wow! I am really disappointed in Jillian's comments - "manage the symptoms while we deal with the real reasons" sounds like a bunch of crap, to put it bluntly.

Finding ways to ruin food because I don't trust myself to know when I'm done eating is something I struggle with all the time with my eating disorder. Having someone who is suppose to be a healthy lifestyle advocate endorse the practice is really twisted.

MelissaS said...

this was such a great post and question. it's still niggling at me. i thought about it last night as i was throwing out my leftovers. it's all so ingrained me -- even though i've come such a long way. i was "shocked" to read hope505's comment -- imagine this all being so shocking to someone. i wish that mutilating food and all the mind cames were so alien to me. thanks, size ate, for making me think.

Lisa said...

I remember reading a Glamour article about the screwy relationships women have with food. When a few readers described pouring salt and sugar all over their food, I, too, had a "lightbulb" moment. And I was at a good point in my recovery! It's a delicate, fine line between using a technique like that to get through the day and perpetuating harmful behaviors. To me, it seems distorted, but I've done it and don't have room to judge.

cggirl said...

I don't judge people who do this, but I do think it's messed up that someone who is supposed to be representing a "healthy" lifestyle is giving such advice.

The obsession with food, and the way we fetishize it, is obviously something we all struggle with. Advice like this just glorifies those attitudes.

I really appreciate what you're doing on this blog, it's one of very few places I can go where dieting is not assumed to be healthy. Sometimes I feel dangerously close to becoming obsessed in that way, and it's such a relief to read about people's honest feelings and struggles, and get a reminder that restricting my food is not some magical answer to life's problems.

Mollie B said...

I thing it's frightening that ED "tips" are being printed like that and am certainly opposed to young women being provided tools with which to fuel their eating disorders, but I feel that I have a different perspective here. I'm a recovering bulimic who binged and purged obscene amounts of food, and yes, in my efforts to maintain my weight between binges I did employ some of Jillian's techniques at times, so I can definitely identify them in some contexts as ED behavior.
As of now I'm one year and 11 months our of my ED. I believe in recovery, not being recovered, and therefore I still consider myself a bulimic and admittedly have the compulsion to overeat from time to time. For me, overeating itself triggers the binge, and in turn the binge triggers the desire to purge, and so the cycle begins. I do everything I can to make sure that I keep myeslf out of the b/p behavior, and in some cases protecting myself from relapse means salting or throwing away my food to prevent me from overeating. In that context, those behaviors are recovery techniques, not symptoms of my bulimis. It's my hope that as I progress in my recovery I'll be able to trust myself around food a little more and not have to make it inedible so as to not eat it, but for now, and for all of us in early recovery, I feel very strongly that we should do all that we can for ourselves to ensure that we don't end up with our heads in the toilets. And for me, if I have to salt my food to protect my recovery, I'll do it as long as I need to. It'll save my life.
Sorry for the long post, but this felt really important to me.