Body Image/Eating Disorder Myths from the Blogosphere
There are tons of misconceptions about what’s attractive, what’s healthy and what an eating disorder really looks like. I talked with several amazing bloggers for their take. Below, you’ll find a list of their myths (and mine :)). And if you haven’t already, be sure to bookmark their fantastic blogs! Stay tuned for the bloggers’ tips on building a better body image next week.
Myth: The thinner you are, the healthier you are.
Weight is not a perfect proxy for health. The best predictors for health: family history, eating a balanced diet and engaging in regular exercise. Being too thin can have negative health consequences, and there are many healthy-weight or heavy women who are in perfect physical health.
Myth: Skinny = happy.
Not true. There are plenty of fat people who are happy, plenty of thin who are not. It’s not a 1-to-1 correlation, and true happiness doesn’t lie five or 10 or 20 pounds from now.
Myth: Men are only attracted to super slim women.
Most men are attracted to a woman who looks like a woman, not an eight-year-old boy. They appreciate curves.
Myth: Women who are diagnosed with anorexia nervosa have a great deal of will-power.
While it may seem that they are in extreme control over what they eat, in fact, their disorder is controlling them.
Myth: Anorexia nervosa is a desirable condition, something to aspire to.
AN is a horrible physical and psychological disease, that has one of the highest fatality rates of any psychiatric illness. Most women who meet criteria for AN are unhappy and wish they could go back to the time before they had the disease.
Myth: People with bulimia nervosa, who purge, are ridding themselves of excess calories.
Purging is not an effective weight-loss technique, and can significantly impact health–multiple bodily systems are affected, and electrolyte imbalances due to frequent purging can even lead to death.
From Sunny Sea Gold, health articles editor at Glamour magazine and founder of HealthyGirl.org, a website for young women who overeat.
Myth: A persistent eating disorder myth I see is the idea that people with food problems look a certain way. It’s something I’ve heard over and over from women who read HealthyGirl.org—the idea that someone with an eating disorder is either emaciated from anorexia, or morbidly obese from major food addiction.
That’s the old think, and it’s just not true! What researchers and therapists now understand is that there’s a real spectrum of eating disorders, with behaviors ranging starving to overexercising to purging to bingeing, and that people can actually jump back and forth, using different behaviors at different times of their lives. Women with food issues come in all shapes and sizes. And just because you’re not on death’s door or your body looks ‘normal’ doesn’t mean you don’t need and deserve help!
Myth: Body image bloggers all LOVE their bodies.
Why it’s a myth: I think that many women think that when another woman makes a career out of talking or writing about eating disorders and body image, that it’s a sign that she is totally over any food-relates issues from her past and no longer struggles with it. For a while, I, too, felt like I had to portray this image: That I’m always totally thrilled with how I look and will just eat whatever I want and can go a week without working out and not get anxious. But the truth is, I DO still have my struggles. I still look in the mirror and curse my cellulite. I still have days where I think, “Ugh, I totally gorged at dinner last night. I’m gonna tack on an extra 10 minutes at the gym today.” I still do ask my husband if my butt looks big in these jeans. I think these thoughts just mean I’m human. The difference is, my life is no longer ruled by them. Whereas my freshman year of college, I refused to touch a drop of fat, I now eat cake and peanut butter multiple times a week. I sometimes slack off a bit at the gym or skip it entirely when I’m tired. And I recognize now that feeling fat has nothing to do with food and everything to do with some sort of stressor in my life that’s driving me to obsess about weight as an easy, go-to coping mechanism.
Myth: Fat people are lazy.
Some of the most productive and successful people I know are also fat.
Myth: Fat people only eat fast food and junk food.
I consume very little of either. For me, it’s become a matter of consuming a bit less and exercising regularly instead of sporadically.
Myth: If the packaging says it’s “low cal” or “low fat” or “fat free” it must be okay.
Not only do these products often just overcompensate in other areas to make up for the taste or texture… people also tend to think that they can eat more just because it’s not “as bad” for them as the regular, full calorie or full fat version. The low-cal WW cookie dough sundae may be better for me than a scoop of regular cookie dough ice cream… until I eat three of them back to back.
Myth: That exercise has to be all or nothing. That once I have a bad week and “fall off the wagon” that I have to scratch everything and start over.
Myth: That the plain fact of being overweight makes us unattractive.
Not so. In my experience, most people respond to confidence and attitude and how we carry ourselves than they do size alone. The world is lush with chubby women with infectious smiles and personalities who aren’t afraid to use them – and it shows in their large circles of friends and adoring lovers. Seriously!
Thanks so much ladies for taking the time to contribute your myths and your insight!!
And here’s one from me.
Myth: Anyone can whittle themselves down to a slim size with enough dieting and exercise. And so if you aren’t stick-thin with bulging biceps then clearly you aren’t working hard enough.
For starters, weight isn’t completely determined by your lifestyle. Heredity is a big part of it. So for some of us no matter how much we do, we’ll never achieve stick-thin status (and that’s a good thing). If you’re eating a nutritious diet (based on say the Food Pyramid) and exercising regularly and you aren’t losing weight (or don’t fit society’s pin-thin standards), it may be because that’s your healthy weight.
I think The Biggest Loser has contributed a lot to these misconceptions. Though contestants drop weight quickly and seem to be doing all the right things (i.e, diet and exercise), they’re also on restrictive diets and working out five hours a day. When they’re off the show, they have to lead a similarly restrictive lifestyle to maintain their weight loss, often participating in grueling workouts and low-calorie diets. Dr. Stacey recently posted what the contestants have to do in their real lives:
Hollie Self: Self is reported to eat 1,200 calories a day, run four times a week (up to 20 miles per run) and engage in strength training three times a week. Self completed the NYC marathon (5:08) and is training for a Half Ironman next year. For the uninitiated, that’s a 1.2 mile swim, a 56-mile bike, and a 13.1 mile run (yes, all in one day). But, on a 1,200 calorie/day diet?
Alexandra White: It’s reported that White eats 1,300 calories a day and works out for four hours a day, six times a week. This type of overtraining is likely to lead her to burnout and injuries and again, isn’t sustainable on 1,300 calories a day.
Nicole Brewer: Brewer reportedly eats 1,600 calories a day, as she trains for the Philadelphia Marathon and teaches spinning and strength training classes.
Also, many contestants have revealed that they take risky measures (like fasting and working out hours upon hours a day) right before the finale. (And don’t get me started on Jillian Michaels, who, I think, can be much nicer. Who feels good about themselves when someone is yelling and cursing at them? That doesn’t motivate me to work out. Plus, she sends the message that exercise shouldn’t be fun and enjoyable. Instead, it’s supposed to hurt and should be punishing, which couldn’t be further from the truth!…but I digress…).
What kinds of myths do you constantly come across? Feel free to set the record straight below!
Tartakovsky, M. (2009). Body Image/Eating Disorder Myths from the Blogosphere. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 6, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/2009/11/body-imageeating-disorder-myths-from-the-blogosphere/