Tuesday, 29 July 2008

creating eating disorders

You know, the thing that drives me crazy about all these new and horrible measures the government is putting into place to stem the supposed tide of obese children in the UK is not quite the same thing that drives a lot of other people crazy. It's not just about the fact that BMI is rubbish science (though it is), or that diets make people fatter (though they do), or that no one has yet figured out how to permanently make a fat person thin (though they haven't).

No, it's the fact that I can't see how shaming children about their weight – sending home report cards which include their BMI, lecturing them endlessly about food, giving them the constant message that Fat Is Bad – is going to do a single damn thing to make them thinner.

What I can see is that it's going to make them crazier.

And by crazier, I mean crazy like I am. These kids are going to end up in this same boat I've been trying to get out of for two decades. Some of them will become as fat as me, some of them will become very thin. Some of them will remain of average weight, but will still be crazy. I can't see anything but an increase in obsessive behaviour, whether dieting or eating or exercising.

How in the hell does that create a healthy population, let alone a thin population? Aren't increasing numbers of eating disorders going to put a pressure in the health system? We're going to end up with a bunch of people with the normal range of bodies, and the totally intolerable mental state known as an eating disorder. Seriously, I got this way with only my parents having a go at me about my weight. I can't even imagine how horrendous it must be for the kids who have their schools and teachers and random prejudicial people from the local council all chipping in on the notion that being fat is the worst thing that you can possibly be, so, hey, let's treat it like you failed a subject.

The thing is, I'm pretty fat. And I have a few health issues that might be related to my fat. But by far the biggest and most distressing health issue I have is not the pain in my feet or my wonky menstrual cycle (though that might not be related at all). It's the fact that I have compulsive eating disorder and have spent nearly twenty two years obsessed with my body and obsessed with food. This is a health issue far more serious than my actual weight, and it is, in fact, the cause of my weight. Quite seriously, if no one had ever started telling me in adolescence that I was too fat, I would not be this fat. The government is just lining up to do to all children what was done to me, and maybe the intentions are just as good as my mother's were, but the results are going to be just as disastrous.

The whole thing is idiotic and hateful and, you know, it's completely immoral. It's immoral to make children suffer because dubious science reporting and hysteria has created a world in which thinness is equated with moral superiority (and now, apparently, about saving the planet - I mean, GEEZ, people!). It's immoral for schools and governments to tell children that there's something wrong with them, especially when it's something that they don't really have control over.

And you know, in ten years time, when they start complaining about how now seventy percent of teenagers have eating disorders, and blah blah, what a drain on the NHS that is, I will just be sitting here saying, "I fucking told you so."


Vidya said...

Yes. Just Yes. To all of it. (Great post!)

Mindy said...

Yup, completely agree. When will people realize the reason so many of us have eating issues is because of all these stinkin' diets they keep throwing at us. For twenty years I tried one thing after another, convinced I'd finally get to my "ideal weight." Looking back, I realize that the only time I was close to that weight was when I was swimming 2 hours, 6 days a week, not eating much. I also had two mouth surgeries during that time. Even then I was still 5 pounds above that "ideal weight" and didn't have enough fat on my inner thighs for them to use calipers to measure.

To hell with BMI bullshit.

Hope said...

This is completely true. I'm in the US, but it is, of course, just as bad if not worse here. For myself, more than being fat what I hate so much are the physical and psychological pains associated with compulsive/binge eating. The main physical pain is feeling stuffed and bloated. The main psychological pain is feeling trapped in a vicious cycle. Dieting doesn't work, but neither does trying to accept myself or "eat intuitively." I can't even just give up. I can't fix myself and I can't stop trying to fix myself. It's horrible and this is a situation that I find myself in as a result of all the crap I was exposed to as a child and teenager from both society and my parents as agents of that society. My heart goes out to all of the fat kids these days who can't escape from the insanity of a culture that has no compassion and no understanding of human nature.

Altastic said...

Anonymous @ 11.20, do you even have a clue what you're talking about? "We, as a collective group, simply exercise choice in our intake." Guess what-- the majority of overweight people exercise the exact same choice as you do, and it doesn't magically make us thin (or "superior" as you arrogantly choose to put it). So we aren't actually supposed to be eating the same "rational" things as you do. No, that's where dieting comes in and the idea that we have to be several times more punishing on ourselves than you just to be seen as equally "superior". Some choose to go along with that, others don't.

Yes, there are people who make poor choices, and thus gain weight. But there are also people with genetic contributions to their body shape, side-effects of medication, and so on. A lot of the time the reason why we say "it's not my fault!" is because IT IS NOT OUR FAULT.

Your argument makes about as much sense under these circumstances as "Tall people have self-control and exercise rational choices, and short people just didn't work hard enough at being tall in the first place."

Sharon said...

That is a great post, most of it could have been written by me, except that I've had the good fortune to recover from the compulsive overeating disorder that my mother helped to set in motion.

I am just disgusted with the comments from the anonymous posters.

Anonymous [30 July 2008 09:59]: Maddie makes a very valid point about how the government are hausing harm not help and all you can contribute to the discussion is to tell her to take responsibility and grow up?

Anonymous [30 July 2008 11:20]:
You are so full of hate and prejudice and clearly very ignorant of the actual facts. You say "Thinness -is- a sign of superiority, if not within the moral ,at least in terms of character." Think about it: is height a sign of superiority? Is having brown eyes a sign of superiority? And no more is size a sign of superiority either, it's just as inherited as the other chracteristics. You're very clearly demonstrating Maddie's point about how bad it has got, that people ACTUALLY think that a physical characteristic is a sign of superiority and see nothing wrong with that view! How distorted is that? Do you think the same way about skin pigmentation too? Open your eyes!!

"You'll find 'skinny' people too are obsessed with their food intake, their body shape, etc. The difference? Willpower, self-control and rational choices."

Wrong wrong wrong. Fat people don't have any more or less willpower than thin people do, we're not less educated, we're no less rational. We simply have body systems that are set to different levels of fat storage. Countless medical studies illustrate this. It is no easier for a fat person to become thin than it is for a thin person to lose a similar percentage of their bodyweight. It makes just as much sense for me to criticise you for not being able to tread water as easily as me. But you just have to move your arms more! Push harder down on the water! You just don't have the willpower to keep your head up as high out of the water as I do!

mumboj said...

This is one of the reasons that it is so important that we oppose these efforts in word and deed.

Unless we keep on describing the full ramifications of these kind of policies in our own lives, they can continue to plead ignorance and abuse children to their hearts content.

julie said...

Did your mom and my mom go to the same "how to fuck up your daughter" school? Jeez, just yesterday she emails me that she talked to a nutritionist at work, and I should be eating "no more than 1200 kcal/day, consisting of Special K (or similar) non-fat milk, non-fat yogurt, boiled chicken, steamed veggies, maybe fruit for dessert". I was irritated, but told her SHE should try it for a few weeks, see how long it takes her to binge and become completely obsessed. Yuck. I think my diet is mostly pretty healthy (except for compulsive part), and I likely wouldn't be overweight if I didn't try all her awful terrible ideas to lose weight. Psycho woman. It's not even close to worth it, not to mention it would never work.

Maddie said...

Vidya - Thank you!

Mindy - Yeah, for real. It just scares the crap out of me, because I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy (well, maybe my worst enemy!), and it seems that well-meaning people everywhere are blindly wishing it on everyone in site.

Hope - Get out of my head. :) I actually think I'm starting to improve a bit lately, but, damn, has it taken a long time. And it's slow and it's hard and it requires so much effort that I don't always have time to actually work on healing. If you want to know what's helping me at the moment, it's Stephen Cope's "Yoga for Emotional Flow", and some other related stuff, about really feeling your emotions. But I think this is part of the struggle - once you know you've got a "disorder", you know it's a fight to be won, and it's not really an easier fight than the one against your weight.

Altastic - Thank you for your support. I'm not really going to address your comment, because it's in response to the trolls, and I've got a brand spanking new Troll Policy, which has a blanket approach of deletion and non-feeding (which is kind of ironic, when you think about it). I'm not going to delete your comment because I appreciate what you've said and that you backed me up, but just be aware - in future, I'm deleting troll-feeding comments as well. But I do really appreciate what you say, so thank you. :)

Sharon - Thank you, I think a lot of us have the same kind of experience. It's been a really positive thing about finding the Fatosphere and ED feeds for me, finding people who say things that are exactly how I feel. I'm really glad you've recovered - if you have any wisdom, I hope you'll share. Just as an aside, though, as I said to Altastic above, I'm just going to ignore and delete all trolling and troll-feeding comments, so please don't respond to them in future or I'll have to delete yours too.

Mumboj - It really is. And you know, the worst thing is that most of them are genuinely well-meaning. But they have no idea what they're doing, and I really fear for the future of the children who get report cards where they're graded on their weight.

Julie - They probably did go to the same school, but happily my mother is now a graduate of the "We Do Not Discuss Maddie's Weight Or Anything Related To It" college. And to be fair to her, she didn't mean it. I mean, she really didn't have a clue how hurtful her words and actions were to me. She didn't know that people have really different body types and that what was a good weight for her wasn't a good weight for everyone. She didn't know that dieting makes you fatter, and crazier. She knows now, and she's been terribly regretful about it, and I genuinely forgive her for it (which I didn't for a long time). The problem is that sometimes, I think, people's way of expressing their love for us is to try to make life easier for us by forcing us to fit in. And that doesn't work - it betrays the love, and makes us feel rejected and, you know, gives us eating problems. It might be worth - if you have that kind of relationship with your mother - telling her that you don't want to discuss your weight or anything related to it with her at any time ever. That helped my relationship with my mum a lot.

Sharon said...

Maddie said:
It's been a really positive thing about finding the Fatosphere and ED feeds for me, finding people who say things that are exactly how I feel.

For me it was Usenet, but the concept is the same - thank goodness for being able to communicate with people from all over the world about fat acceptance and EDs and related issues.

I'm really glad you've recovered

Thanks, so am I!

- if you have any wisdom, I hope you'll share.

I'm very happy to share anything you like - it seems a shame having had this experience with CO to let the information about it just go to waste... email me at m88sc@yahoo.co.uk if you are interested in chatting further, a blog is a bit public!

I'm just going to ignore and delete all trolling and troll-feeding comments, so please don't respond to them in future or I'll have to delete yours too.

Oh sure, no problem, I didn't know whether you were going the delete route or the laugh-at-troll route, and I just didn't like the idea of not offering some support.

... happily my mother is now a graduate of the "We Do Not Discuss Maddie's Weight Or Anything Related To It" college.
It might be worth - if you have that kind of relationship with your mother - telling her that you don't want to discuss your weight or anything related to it with her at any time ever. That helped my relationship with my mum a lot.

Again, snap! My mum is now also in the same camp, she knows not to talk to me about that issue. It too, helped a lot. It was one of the first "lightbulb" moments I had; I realised that no matter how wrong being fat was or wasn't, it wasn't right that she kept making me upset by nagging me about my weight. I wrote a letter to her (pointed out that I didn't want parents at my graduation who weren't proud of me), and lo and behold, no problem!

Maddie said...

Sharon - I will take you up on the email. Thank you. :)

As for the trolls, I thought about arguing with them - I composed a couple of reactions, then I realised that (a) I don't have time to play trollbait, and (b) they don't deserve it anyway. I do appreciate very much that people jumped in on them, I have just decided that I want this to be a troll-free zone. And if we ignore them, and then I delete them, it will be lovely. :) (On the plus side, I now have this song in my head, which will never not be funny.)

And for mothers - yes, it makes a huge difference to set boundaries, I think, both in recovery and growing up. I had to tell her to stop sending me clothes as well, in the end, which I felt kind of bad about, because my mum loves to give presents and she was just trying to be nice, but she kept sending me things that were too small, and that was all bad. And it worked for the best both in terms of my problems and our relationship.

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