How An Eating Disorder Article Got It Wrong
Welcome to the worst opening lines for an eating disorder article ever:
Eating disorders often begin with the best of intentions — a desire to lose weight and control eating. But in some people, those good intentions go badly wrong, resulting in anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating, or other disorders.
Sadly, very, very sadly, this article didn’t appear on some shoddy website viewed by several people.
No, this article comes to us courtesy of WebMD.com, where it was written by a seasoned writer and then reviewed by a doctor for “medical accuracy.”
These simple sentences are so grossly misinformed that I’m shocked the medical editor didn’t see anything wrong with them. But I do, and I bet you do, too.
For starters, we get the usual undertones of weight loss and food restriction as virtuous pursuits.
Curiously, there’s no mention of the words healthful eating. (Of course this wouldn’t solve the issue of gross misinformation but it’s interesting to note the odd choice of words.)
Instead, we get “control eating.” As though you need to overpower your eating with a sledge hammer, whip it into shape and watch it like a hawk.
Sure, I may be being nit-picky here. But the problem with this word choice – and the scary thing about it all – is that readers get the same old damaging message about the importance and goodness of wanting to lose weight and controlling what you eat.
Except that, you know, it’s worse.
Because it comes in an eating disorder article!!! (In my mind, I’m screaming these last two phrases.)
Then, of course, there’s the egregious error of what eating disorders actually are. The article focuses on the connection between eating disorders and depression, and oddly, there’s no mention of genetics or biology. (There is a phrase about physiological changes from malnourishment but that’s it.)
Also, these words make it seem as though eating disorders aren’t illnesses. It’s simply that “some people” just happen to take these good behaviors of dieting and weight loss too far.
(Again, the implicit message is to engage in these behaviors, but just don’t go overboard or you’ll catch an eating disorder, as if by accident. Oops.)
To be fair, the rest of the article cites experts and research. But that still doesn’t excuse these two sentences. Not only do Web readers have short attention spans and tend to skim (it’s simply the way of the Internet), but the opening sets a tone for the entire article.
While, logistically you can’t pack in lots of information into a two-sentence introduction, the blatantly casual tone and weird word choice are troubling.
Not to mention that it perpetuates the same myths about eating disorders: that they’re simply about wanting to be thin and wanting to eat “well.”
It’s as if they’re on a conveyor-belt continuum, the virtuous behaviors of wanting thinness and dieting like a good girl (or boy) on one end, and still yearning for thinness but restricting your food too much on the other.
It misses the point of how severe eating disorders are. That their symptoms and causes are incredibly complex, and not due to good intentions or behaviors gone wrong.
They’re debilitating conditions and reducing an entire group of eating disorders to weight loss and food intake is insulting, confusing, damaging and downright foolish.
Articles like these on reputable websites infuriate me because they disseminate inaccurate information. (Though perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised because WebMD is plastered with weight-loss and diet pieces.)
And then there’s the not-so-small issue of glorifying weight loss and controlled eating. Even when we’re discussing eating disorders, we can’t escape the cultural obsession with these two things.
I’d like to leave you with posts that debunk common eating disorder myths and offer the facts, both from Weightless and other places:
- NEDA Week: Dispelling common eating disorder myths
- Fighting the wrong battles by Dr. Sarah Ravin
- Expert Amy Pershing talks about binge eating myths
- Eating disorder myths from experts and women who’ve recovered from EDs
- Myths from SomethingFishy.org
- Posts on the biology of EDs from Carrie at ED Bites (a great blog on eating disorders; it provides accurate information on EDs and regularly cites research studies)
- Author Harriet Brown talks about several other ED myths
What articles have made you mad because of their blatant (or subtle) inaccuracies? What do you think about the opening lines of the WebMD article? Am I being too nit-picky or is it grossly misinformed?
Tartakovsky, M. (2011). How An Eating Disorder Article Got It Wrong. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 8, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/weightless/2011/07/how-an-eating-disorder-article-got-it-wrong/