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Enough with the fill-in-the-blank-rexias!

2nd December 2008

Enough with the fill-in-the-blank-rexias!

“-rexia:” An overused, cliche and annoying-as-hell buzzword that is to tabloid reports of disordered eating what -gate is to political scandal.

Recent years have ushered in a whole new list of –rexias (and –mias) to describe every shade of disordered eating behaviors and some not related to eating at all: There’s wannarexia (for eating disorder hopefuls); manorexia (for gay men with anorexia); drunkorexia (for co-ed binge drinkers); brideorexia (for brides who take the requisite pre-marital dieting too far); diabulimia (for diabetics and only because diarexia isn’t as catchy); orthorexia (for overzealous health nuts); tanorexia (for Day Glo people addicted to their tanning beds); exorexics (for people addicted to their treadmills); and pregorexia (for pregnant celebs and others who don’t want the telltale “baby bump). The Huffington Post even recently coined “money-rexia” (for people with insatiable greed). Many of these invented terms aren’t even semantically accurate. Rexia comes from the Greek orexis, meaning desire or hunger. The suffix of an- denotes a lack thereof. Bulimia also comes to us from the Greek boulimia or ox-like hunger — bous meaning ox and limos meaning hunger.

Case in point: Stuff, the “award-winning news and information website” of Fairfax New Zealand Ltd., published this article yesterday ruminating about uncorroborated and rumoured suspicions that Britney Spears is “reportedly abusing laxatives and vomiting after meals.” Stuff reminds its readers that it “previously reported Britney is suffering from bulimorexia, an eating disorder which sees her both starving herself and then bingeing and making herself sick.” Newsflash to Stuff and Fairfax New Zealand Ltd.: Bulimorexia isn’t an actual eating disorder diagnosis; it’s just one you made up. Nope, it’s not legit even if you tack on an -rexia suffix. Bulimia, of course, is an actual legitimate disorder recognized by the DSM-IV and encompasses the behaviors described above. And as a side note, I and I’m sure Britney Spears herself would rather any medical disorder, fabricated or legit, be diagnosed by Britney’s doctor and not you or any other media outlet.

It wasn’t always like this. The rexorexic media was once content to just publish account after shocking account of plain ole’ anorexia, filling inches with morbidly compelling tales of young affluent white girls subsisting on only lettuce leaves and a handful of Cheerios, of diets gone terribly wrong and girls with everything to live for willfully starving themselves to death. Bulimia? Eww, that’s just yucky. Who wants to hear about average-weight and overweight girls sticking their heads into toilets and vomiting?

Then anorexia became just another common verbal banality. Not content with after-school specials, celebrity musings and pro-ana website scares, media mongers needed to put a new sensationalist face on an old life-threatening disorder that has become otherwise mundane to an desensitized public. Enter rexorexia. The term is quite simple, really: The media fabricates a new trendy disorder, attaches -rexia to the end of it to make it sound medically authentic, and voila! A new eating disorder is born.

It’s nauseating, for sure, this rendering of the leading cause of death for our nation’s best and brightest girls into revenue-generating titillating tabloid headlines. Manufacturing trendy buzz words to attract new attention to old problems is also just lazy journalism. But far worse, it’s irresponsible and dangerous. Pregorexia, for example, implies that an eating disorder develops largely in response to media coverage of unrealistic pregnant and post-baby bodies of celebs. It’s generally accepted medical knowledge today that while the media can play a role in the formation of an eating disorder, it does not cause it. Pregorexia is also concerning because it implies that the “problem” will go away after nine months when the label is no longer applicable. Likewise with brideorexia. The trivialization and abasement of anorexia and bulimia as trifle adjectives and invented buzz words perpetuates not only the sheer popularity of eating disorders, but also their irrelevancy. And ironically, it is our casual references to them — these catchy glamorizations like pregorexia and brideorexia, the digest of suspicions on if a celebrity has an eating disorder, and so on — that allow them to go unnoticed and uncared for.

I am all for broadening the the definitions of disordered eating and specifying in more detail the catch-call category of ED-NOS, including making binge eating disorder a diagnosis in itself. But it is quite dangerous to replace official diagnoses with unofficial, fill-in-the-blank-rexia labels concocted by a “money-rexic” media that minimizes and distracts from the real underlying illness and one’s motivation to seek treatment for it.

Let’s put the emphasis back on on people first and call a spade a spade. There is no brideorexia, although there can be a woman engaged to be married with anorexia. There is no manorexia, although there can be a man with anorexia. There is no pregorexia, although there can be a pregnant woman with anorexia. There is no exorexia, although there can be people who overexercise, as is commonly seen in people with bulimia. All of these people need support and professional treatment. What they don’t need are fictitious labels to disguise, excuse, stigmatize or further glamorous their eating disorder.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008 at 1:01 pm and is filed under Eating Disorders, Pop Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 20 responses to “Enough with the fill-in-the-blank-rexias!”

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  1. 1 On December 2nd, 2008, Tiffany said:

    “The trivialization and abasement of anorexia and bulimia as trifle adjectives and invented buzz words perpetuates not only the sheer popularity of eating disorders, but also their irrelevancy.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more, and I am glad you took the time to write about this. I think people have become desensitized as a result of this kind of journalism and don’t take these disorders as seriously as they should because of that. All it would take is a little bit of research on the part of these writers, but who wants to take time to do that?

  2. 2 On December 2nd, 2008, Cammy said:

    I agree. I think that sometimes the terms are attempts to be “cute-sy” about serious issues, and almost all the time they seem to distort issues and trivialize true conditions. I wrote a post about this recently, when I was frustrated with a reporter using the term “carborexia” to describe environmentally conscience people: http://buildingbeautybeyondbody.blogspot.com/2008/10/no-its-not-another-term-for-atkins-diet.html

  3. 3 On December 2nd, 2008, Tori said:

    Thank you for acknowledging this! I am so SICK of seeing all these new buzzwords (especially “tanorexic,” as it seems to be getting more popular). Not only is it annoying, but it’s offensive to those of us who have suffered from a mental illness because it downplays the seriousness of it.

  4. 4 On December 2nd, 2008, Amy said:

    Great post.

    As someone who works with teenagers with Type 1 diabetes, just one little thing. The reason the term ‘diabulimia’ was jumped upon (by the media, not by any endocrinologists I know), is not just because ‘diarexia’ isn’t catchy, it’s because the actual process is bulimia. When you have diabetes, taking inadequate (or no) insulin is a form of purging, just like vomiting or laxatives. That said, all medical professionals I know would describe these patients having both diabetes and bulimia, not ‘diabulimia’.

  5. 5 On December 2nd, 2008, JupiterPluvius said:

    To be fair to “orthorexia”, it was coined by a doctor who himself has experienced the condition, and it was a very purposeful linking to anorexia. It’s not a thoughtless media coinage.

    As he described it in his original article on the topic:

    ‘..an eating disorder for which I have coined the name “orthorexia nervosa.” The term uses “ortho,” meaning straight, correct, and true, to modify “anorexia nervosa.” Orthorexia nervosa refers to a pathological fixation on eating proper food.’

  6. 6 On December 2nd, 2008, JupiterPluvius said:

    And he didn’t mean to identify “overzealous health nuts” with the tag–he was describing people with serious eating disorders focused around an obsession with eating ‘correct’ foods.

    Yes, I too hate “-rexia” for things that aren’t eating disorders. But orthorexia was coined as a description of an eating disorder. To minimize the impact of that eating disorder seems a bit disrespectful.

    That said, I think it’s also disrespectful to describe overzealous ‘health nuts’ as people with orthorexia, just as it’s disrespectful to describe overzealous dieters as people with anorexia. So you may not have encountered the term in an appropriate clinical discussion before, which might explain your issues with it?

  7. 7 On December 2nd, 2008, LadyGrey said:

    Great post overall. You forgot my “favorite,” “bigorexia,” for men who are obsessed with muscle-building.

    That said, I first encountered the concept of diabulimia in an endocrinology lecture, so I think it’s more of a medical concept and less of a media-driven trivialization than the others. The OED-owning word nerd in me agrees that it makes no etymological sense — but there is a legitimate health issue behind it, even if it’s not a DSM disorder.

    Just looked it up, and I guess it’s not a real medical term of any kind either — the only PubMed reference it turns up has the term in quotes. So maybe your point stands and we should confine the discussion to “diabetic women with eating disorders” or something less potentially trivializing.

  8. 8 On December 2nd, 2008, Rachel said:

    And he didn’t mean to identify “overzealous health nuts” with the tag–he was describing people with serious eating disorders focused around an obsession with eating ‘correct’ foods.

    Orthorexia was coined by a professional with good intentions, but my point was more satirical about the ways in which it has since been hijacked and used by the media. Many media outlets now use the term interchangeably in the describing of health nuts. Case in point here.

  9. 9 On December 2nd, 2008, Angelique said:

    You’re right on target with this post.

    I particularly hate “drunkorexia” and “tanorexia” myself. Sometimes, I add an -orexia just to be silly because it’s so ridiculous. Perhaps we should coin “shoporexia” (for over-the-top gift givers); “sportsimia” (for people who binge on TV sports or fantasy sports leagues); or “blogimia” (for bloggers who can’t seem to stop…)

    I say these in jest, of course, to lighten the mood. But know that I’m right with you as far your feelings go!

  10. 10 On December 2nd, 2008, Rachel2 said:

    I think that the “-rexia” catchphrase is stupid. It is just as stupid as combining a celebrity couple’s name to identify them as a unit (“Bennifer”, anyone?). News these days is crap. It sensationalist crap based solely on trying to get somebody to pick their crap on a page up. The beauty and design of it has been bastardized to create this awful, sterile, and mulish bullshit on a page for people to pick up and read. I don’t want to hear about the latest celebrity with an eating disorder. I know that Hollywood is rife with that type of behavior, and I think it’s both sick and sad.

    Coming up with a cute, catchy phrase does those of us suffering from real, live disorders no favors. “Tanorexic”. Seriously. Tan-hungry? WTF?! It’s absolutely and utterly ridiculous, it sounds ridiculous, and the “journalists” and their big-wigs that decided that this would be a good idea all ought to be rounded up and shot. I myself am a designer, and if offered a job at any of these organizations, I would flat-out refuse. I would tell them that I think that their content published is crap, and that instead of relying on the next cute catchphrase to promote sales, why not focus on women (mostly, or people in general) doing good in the world? Skip the “-orexia” crap, skip the sex sleaze, and focus on something worthwhile, darn it. Then they may actually get sales from stalwarts like me who absolutely, flat-out REFUSE to pick up their SH*T at the supermarket checkout line.

    These are real issues that should remain private to the sufferer of the illness. I feel sorry for a lot of celebrities because of this, regardless of what I think of their work. Britney Spears, for example. I think that she’s crap as an artist, BUT, I seriously empathize with her in that she’s plastered across these Crapazines (check THAT out for a cute catchphrase! HA!) and we know every little detail that is speculated by the sleaze-masters in charge. Yes, there are some serious mental and emotional issues. In the grand scheme of things, do I care? Absolutely not! I’d rather she get her shit together on her own and figure it out on her own, as opposed to really being a victim of her environment. She was raised in the limelight from very young, and she’s suffered greatly for it.

    /rant

  11. 11 On December 3rd, 2008, Jenny Smith said:

    This man has elderlyrexia.

  12. 12 On December 3rd, 2008, Lola Snow said:

    “The trivialization and abasement of anorexia and bulimia as trifle adjectives…”etc

    Absolutely spot on. I am fed up of having to explain to people that I have a life threatening disorder and NOT a desire to look like a popstar/celebrity/catwalk model. As if mental illness didn’t have enough to contend with.

    Lola x

  13. 13 On December 3rd, 2008, Pegkitty said:

    To be a little fair to the folks from Stuff, though; when I was in my active eating disorder in the early 90′s, the term “bulimorexia” was fairly commonly used to describe anorexics that purged. No, it was never in the DSM, but it predates this “-rexia”-mania. There was also no such thing back then as ED-NOS.

  14. 14 On December 3rd, 2008, Rachel said:

    Interesting point, PK, but regardless, journalists worth their salt just don’t use cutesy, invented names and medically-unrecognized diagnoses unless they’re in quotes and are attributed to a source. Would we expect to see this kind of reporting in the New York Times?

  15. 15 On December 6th, 2008, From The Bed Of Lola Snow - Week 4 « Marine Snow said:

    [...] sentiment echoed by The F Word is this post about Fill-in-the-blank-rexia’s: “Not content with after-school specials, celebrity musings and pro-ana website scares, media [...]

  16. 16 On December 6th, 2008, Lola Snow said:

    Journ-a-rexia: A condition afflicting some quarters of the media, who seem incapable of reporting on eating disorders in a respectful or sensitive manner.

  17. 17 On December 24th, 2008, crissy said:

    Orthorexia is very real, and very crippling. It feels like having anorexia/bulimia only no relief, no good feeling because you purged. Just constant…stress. You start thinking about the next meal before you’re done with the one your eating. It kills all joy in life.

  18. 18 On February 19th, 2009, Lifetime Movie: Queen Size | Fat Chic said:

    [...] Enough with the fill-in-the-blank-rexias! (the-f-word.org) [...]

  19. 19 On September 10th, 2009, Anyone heard of the term “omnirexia”? » The-F-Word.org said:

    [...] thought I was hip to the legions of trendy and unofficial, fill-in-the-blank-rexia labels, but today’s Ask Amy column has left me stumped.  A woman (I assume) wrote in to Amy about [...]

  20. 20 On September 4th, 2010, Farli said:

    Thank you so much for writing this. I suffer from chronic anorexia and i feel as though its not taken seriously as it is, without people using the name to trivialise or jest. Its not fair and shouldnt be allowed. Its hard enough justifying everyday to myself that im ill and dont chose it, never mind people, now thinking its just a ‘trendy label’.

    People are dying from this illness and it seems people are just making fun of it. I dont think its funny and i doubt the families who have lost people thru it dont either!!

    Shame on u if you are publishing this crap or ‘bigging’ it up!!

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