The Wednesday Weigh-In

9th June 2010

The Wednesday Weigh-In

by Rachel

Margarita Tartakovsky of the blog Weightless interviews Cheryl Kerrigan, author of the new book Telling ED NO! and Other Practical Tools to Conquer Your Eating Disorder and Find Freedom.

Fat Lot of Good blogger Bri weighs in on a recent study that found that children whose mothers were chronically abused by their partners were more likely to be fat by age 5.  Because being fat is so much more pressing of an issue than being victimized by domestic violence.

Urban Outfitters removes what many are calling a pro-ana t-shirt from its website, but the “Eat Less” shirt remains available in stores.   Outraged?  Join the Girlcott Urban Outfitters group on Facebook.

Should appearance-based discrimination be treated with the same weight as we give to other -isms like racism and sexism?  That’s the question Deborah Rhodes tackles in her new book, The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law. Read Dahlia Lithwick’s review of the book on Slate.

Just when you thought the insanity would never end…  It’s not enough that some parents lose custody of their obese children because of their weight.  Now a British animal welfare council has seized custody of an obese dog.  The pudgy pup Gucci is said to now be on a strict diet and exercise regime at a special canine fat club.

FEAST has launched its Around the Dinner Table Plate Drive through June.  The fundraising initiative supports the group’s mission, which is to empower families and support parents and caregivers in helping loved ones recover from eating disorders.

The British Mail’s Lucy Taylor ruminates on on how she gave up running and learned to simply enjoy the journey. contributor Karen Salmansohn looks at the Fox and ABC refusal to air the sexy new Lane Bryant lingerie commercials in a different light: “The fact that a TV network would find this Lane Bryant spot far more sexually enticing than Victoria’s Secret spots — which air all the time — simply shows they’re acknowledging the extreme sexiness of voluptuous women!”

Comments?  Any links to share?  Add your two cents in the comments below.

posted in Anorexia, Body Image, Body Politic, Body-Affirming, Eating Disorders, Fat Bias, Feminist Topics, Legal Issues, Mental Health, Non-profits, Politics, Pop Culture, Rachel | 12 Comments

20th May 2010

Guest post: Fasting for God or holy anorexia?

by Rachel

Speaking of women, food and god… Reader Jocelyn (who comments here by the name J.S.) contacted me a few weeks ago proposing a guest blog entry on the convergence of fasting for religious purposes and eating disorders among women of faith — and we’re not just talking here about pursuit of the Gospel of Thinness. As someone who subscribes to spiritual beliefs (Buddhism) in which followers promote many dictates around food (no meat or alcohol, eat only until you’re 80 percent full, etc…), I was intrigued to learn more about the fasting traditions held in other religions.* Many religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, incorporate fasting into spiritual beliefs, believing it to give followers a heightened sense of self-awareness and more intimate connection with god or nature. Yet I was still a bit shocked to read in Jocelyn’s guest post of the extreme fasting lengths to which some people of faith will go — and how quickly those religious motivations can morph into something entirely more dangerous and insidious.

“You have to watch it with those religious girls,” my sister murmured to me under cover of the blender noise.

I looked away from my room-mate, who was shoving a concoction of blueberries, soy milk, and bananas into the blender’s pitcher across the kitchen. “What do you mean?”

“That’s going to be her only meal today? She’s ‘fasting’?” At my nod, she added, “Didn’t you tell me she’s anorexic?”

I shifted, uncomfortable. “Well, she was. I mean, obviously she’s not starving herself now, she looks healthy…”

“Maybe she’s still trying to starve herself,” my sister said softly, just before the motor cut out.

At the time I had recently moved to the area in order to become part of a large group of Christian people who believe in something called the “fasted lifestyle.” As preached, the fasted lifestyle means voluntary restraint, from spending to housing to food—in other words, one lives in a simple fashion in order to have greater resources to devote to the Kingdom of God. As practiced by many of the early twenty-something women who devoted themselves to the cause, it became practical, religious-sanctioned anorexia.

I didn’t know this when I moved there. I had friends from a previous year spent in the city; we had all belonged to a church that was now defunct. Many of them had joined the group before I returned. I liked their message of whole-hearted devotion. I still do, which is why I’m not naming it; the leaders practice what they preach. But. When I would hang out, outside the building, I would overhear snatches of conversation that should have given me pause.

“She’s only eating one meal a day for… forever. She’s, like, totally devoted.” (This was about a church leader who was in her early twenties at the time.)

“What are you fasting from this time?” “He said we’re not supposed to talk about it so we don’t compare… Okay. I’m doing liquids only.” “Oh man. Maybe I should make mine tougher. I was just going to go no meats, no sweets.”

“It was supposed to be a 21-day fast, but I lost ten pounds so I thought maybe I should go to forty days?”

I wasn’t self-aware enough to realize it, but this was a toxic scene for me. I had recently lost quite a bit of weight through extremely regimented means, although it was all physician-approved, and I lived with the daily fear that I would gain it all back. Every time I stepped on the scale, and it was often, I would suffer a shaft of icy panic if I had even gained one pound. When my room-mate moved into my apartment, we fed each others’ obsessions. We would go and eat monster servings of frozen custard, and then declare we were fasting for the next two weeks—or at least until we could fit into our skinny jeans again. But of course, the fasting was all for God, not for us… right?

Eventually I moved back to my home state. Once there, I found a church that I felt comfortable with. They were loosely connected with my previous spiritual leaders, and preached a similar message. I slowly regained some stability in my eating habits. I stopped obsessing over weight gain. All was well for a couple of years… And then I noticed that fasting was becoming more and more commonly preached from the pulpit as a means to connect with God. Church-wide fasts were declared. The teenaged and slightly older girls grew gaunt, or gained weight—almost none stayed the same. I lost a bunch of weight, and then yo-yoed back up again. I have to admit, though, that I didn’t comprehend how dire the situation had become until my best friend, who had started attending about six months after me, came to me with the news that she and her husband were strongly considering leaving.

“Do you realize, Chris (her husband) and I added up all the days we were supposed to be fasting—I mean, church-wide fasts that were called from the pulpit? And it added up to one hundred and fifty days,” she told me. “That’s ridiculous.”

I had by no means participated whole-heartedly in that many days of fasting, though I had tried, but—150? Faced with that number, I retreated to my computer. I looked up fasting to see if I could find anybody else who had experienced something similar. The first blog I read opened with an introduction in which the author pleaded for support and understanding for her lifestyle of fasting. I thought I must have found someone from the same church… And then, as I continued scrolling, I discovered that it was a pro-ana blog. Her fasted lifestyle was one of stylized starvation. A light bulb went off in my head—not the ultimate light bulb that I was eating disordered, that came later, but I did realize, “this is not healthy. And if I’m not caring for my body, which is a temple, then it can’t be holy either.”

It took another year, but I left that church. There were other reasons, of course, but the emphasis on fasting over practical expressions of love was the main factor. I had come to realize that my relationship with food simply wasn’t healthy enough for me to deny myself all of it for a period of time without serious consequences. Nor was I ready to hear it preached as a shortcut to God’s action without experiencing crippling guilt about my inability to participate.

I have friends who are Muslim who have told me about their conflicted relationship with faith-mandated fasting. I know (partly from Rachel) that other religions recommend denying oneself food as a gateway to accessing the divine. Have you ever experienced this sort of thing, or am I the only one? I’d love to hear from The F-Word’s readership, because I’ve felt like an oddity.

* For more on fasting and Buddhism, read the last half of the post here.

posted in Anorexia, Eating Disorders, Guest Blogger, Mental Health, Rachel, Religion | 31 Comments

13th May 2010

Geneen Roth releases new book on women, food and god

by Rachel

I discovered the works of Geneen Roth early on into my eating disorder and I found them to be immensely insightful and helpful in helping me come to terms with the emotions driving my own disorder.  If you aren’t familiar with her, Roth is a writer, teacher and founder of the “Breaking Free” workshops, which she has conducted nationwide since 1979.  She is also the author of Feeding the Hungry Heart, Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating, and When Food Is Love.  Now Roth has released yet another book, which I’m sure will be a “godsend” for many struggling with food addictions and other related behaviors.  Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything is getting rave reviews, including from such luminaries as Anne Lamott.  Here’s a blurb from Amazon:

…after more than three decades of studying, teaching and writing about what drives our compul-sions with food, Geneen adds a profound new dimension to her work in Women, Food and God. She begins with her most basic concept: The way you eat is inseparable from your core beliefs about being alive. Your relationship with food is an exact mirror of your feelings about love, fear, anger, meaning, transformation and, yes, even God. But it doesn’t stop there. Geneen shows how going beyond both the food and feelings takes you deeper into realms of spirit and soul to the bright center of your own life.

With penetrating insight and irreverent humor, Roth traces food compulsions from subtle beginnings to unexpected ends. She teaches personal examination, showing readers how to use their relationship with food to discover the fulfillment they long for.

Your relationship with food, no matter how conflicted, is the doorway to freedom, says Roth. What you most want to get rid of is itself the doorway to what you want most: the demystification of weight loss and the luminous presence that so many of us call “God.”

Packed with revelations on every page, this book is a knock-your-socks-off ride to a deeply fulfilling relationship with food, your body…and almost everything else. Women, Food and God is, quite simply, a guide for life.

This book isn’t for everyone, obviously — it seems geared towards people who follow the Christian faith* — but the emphasis on self-examination and understanding our food-related behaviors sounds promising.  If anyone has read it, let us know what you think.

* Thanks to readers who clarified that Roth’s concept of “God” is not necessarily Christian-defined.

posted in Book Reviews, Eating Disorders, Mental Health, Rachel, Recovery | 31 Comments

27th April 2010

Skinny dreams meets skinny reality

by Rachel

I have never liked running.  Before I lost weight, I thought I didn’t like running simply because I was physically unable to run and believed that once I lost the weight, I’d magically become one of those cross country runners sporting an armband iPod and gloating about my runner’s high.  Fast forward one year and 175 pounds lost.  I weigh 125 pounds, wear a size four and guess what?  I still can’t run more than a mile before dissolving into a huffing and puffing red-faced mess.

MSNBC has a great story out today on people who’ve discovered that the skinny dream is just that… a dream. The story profiles three women, all of whom thought their lives would be just fabulous once they lost the pesky weight holding them back, and discovered that weight loss isn’t a panacea for life’s problems nor has it made them a better person.  Self-described “accomplished fat girl” Jen Larsen had a master’s degree in creative writing, a great job working in an academic library, a great boyfriend and a slew of friends.

By age 32, she believed she’d be writing a book, “doing something important,” she says. The only thing holding her back, she thought, was weight.  “Not so,” she now says. “The only thing that’s different is the size of my ass.”

Larsen thought skinny came with a mega-boost of self confidence. And a huge dollop of happiness. She thought she’d be dynamic and brave and ready to take on the world, just because she was thin.

“I think fat people are sold a fantasy, and then get no support in the reality, because we’re simply supposed to be grateful that we’re no longer fat,” Larsen says.

…In a culture obsessed with BMIs, the tears and triumphs of “The Biggest Loser,” and the latest-greatest surefire way to lose weight and keep it off, Larsen’s take on her new lean physique sounds like heresy. But weight loss chat rooms, forums and blogs are filled with people who are wondering why their newfound svelte selves and stellar metabolic profiles are leaving them ever-so-slightly disappointed.

Jennette Fulda, a.k.a. PastaQueen, was a national merit scholar, her high school class valedictorian and graduated with highest honors from college — all accomplished while weighing 372 pounds.   “You can be fat, accomplished and pretty darn happy.  I think people forget that,” she said.  ““I guess we all really think that losing weight gets rid of our issues. But in so many ways we’re still the very same person, not that skinny woman we dreamed about.”

It’s something that Darliene Howell, 55,  knows all too well.  A yo-yo dieter since the age of 6, Howell says she’s tried “every diet on the planet” and has counted calories, points, carbs and proteins “until I thought I was losing my mind,” she says. She finally lost 100 pounds on a liquid diet.  “I’ve weighed 150, 250 and even 300, and each time I lost weight I thought I was going to live the skinny dream,” she says. “My life was supposed to have changed. I thought I was supposed to be more popular, more attractive, if only I were thinner. Well, that didn’t happen.”

I think many of us suffer from the delusion that is the “skinny dream” — that if we just lose weight, everything else will follow.  We will become vastly more interesting, creative, outgoing, self-assured.  Guys will beat down our doors laden with bouquets of roses and people much cooler than ourselves will clamor to be our friends.  We’ll finally land the dream job we’ve always wanted, become a veritable social butterfly, get the guy and live happily ever after on that thin, thin cloud of delusion.

Reality check: weight loss, in itself, is unlikely to bring about any of the above.

I’ve been morbidly obese and I’ve been on the low end of the “normal” range of BMI and have now settled somewhere comfortably in between.  Before my weight loss, I also suffered from the delusion that my weight and weight alone was the only thing holding me back from becoming the person I wanted to be.  I discovered all too quickly that happiness can’t be found in the junior’s department. If you read the so-called weight loss success stories, they’re chock full of just how awful and miserable an existence life was before weight loss and how fabulous it is after.   And yet, I have never understood (or fully believed) these people who lose weight and lay claim to some newly found self-confidence that has just laid buried beneath fat, like a diamond waiting to be mined.  If anything, I was even more insecure after my weight loss than before!  I still battled the same self-doubts and fears.  I still had the same old fat girl self-image.  I still had the same money problems.  I still had the same unresolved family issues.    The only thing that changed was that I went from being morbidly obese to morbidly afraid of regaining the weight.

This is not to say that weight loss did not change my life in any significant way.  I sincerely believe I would never have landed a contract job with a major computer corporation had I weighed 100, 75 or even 50 pounds more than what I weighed at the time.  Sales clerks, professors and classmates and even some family members treated me more nicely than before.  It was easier to find fashionable and affordable clothes in my size.  My personality even changed after my transformation to the point where my sister, the person to whom I was closest to at the time, remarked that I was like a new person.  It wasn’t that weight loss freed some skinny girl inside me clawing her way out, but rather that it took a while to reconcile my split identities between living Life as a Fat Person and Life as a Thin Person.  For a while, I felt like an imposter infiltrating a thin insider club, a fat girl masquerading in a thin suit, laying claim to a title I had no right to claim.  I always thought I wanted to be part of them, the Thin People, but after my weight loss, I found myself literally disfiguring myself with body piercings in an attempt to salvage some element of my Fat Girl identity, to show that I wasn’t one of them.

Although I struggled with my identity, being thin did not grant me membership to some exclusive club in which being thin absolves you of all your problems.  If anything, the compulsive calorie-counting, over-exercising and general obsession with my weight only created more problems and took away from the time I could have dedicated instead to facing the existing problems I had, like, oh, resolving longstanding issues with my mother, my poor self-esteem and dead-end job situation.  And surprise… once I committed to face the real problems head-on, my issues with food and  body also began to resolve themselves.  

How about you?  Did you (or do you still) suffer from the delusion of thinness?  How did your skinny dreams measure up to reality?

posted in Body Image, Mental Health, Personal, Rachel, Recovery | 41 Comments

22nd April 2010

Was your health insurance policy canceled after an eating disorder diagnosis?

by Rachel

Reuters, via MSNBC, today has an absolutely heart-breaking story on women whose insurance companies found ways to drop their coverage shortly after being diagnosed with breast cancer.   WellPoint, which has the most policyholders (33.7 million) of any health insurance company in the nation, is one of the worst offenders — it specifically used a computer algorithm to target  newly diagnosed breast cancer victims and then triggered a fraud alert for aggressive investigation with the intent to find any pretext, no matter how flimsy or relevant, with which to cancel their policies.  Women who had paid their policies faithfully for years suddenly found themselves without insurance just when they needed their coverage the most.

The process of canceling one’s coverage shortly after a diagnosis of a life-threatening, expensive medical condition is known as rescission.  Insurance companies have used the practice for years and while cases of such have been well documented by law enforcement agencies, state regulators and even a congressional committee, laws restricting the unethical and illegal use of the practice aren’t enforced as they should be.  As one former federal prosecutor explained, “The industry just has these tremendous financial, legal and political resources that others don’t.  In my own state (Calif.), regulators are often afraid or unwilling to go up against them.”

According to the article, the two conditions that most commonly trigger rescission both affect primarily women: breast cancer and pregnancy.  Breast cancer can be costly to treat and pregnancy holds the potential for a child born with a disability, so policyholders with these conditions are scrutinized and probed more closely for possible rescission.  Other conditions are targeted, too.  Assurant Health was ordered by courts to pay millions of dollars in settlements after it was determined that they similarly targeted HIV-positive policyholders for rescission.

The article left me both enraged and curious…  Some 11 million people are afflicted by eating problems, ranging from anorexia and bulimia to binge eating, according to the NEDA.  And eating disorders can be very costly to treat, especially anorexia and in cases requiring in-patient treatment.  The self-pay cost at the Renfrew Center’s Philadelphia treatment center, for example, runs a staggering $8,050 per week!  We’ve heard of families suing their health insurance providers to cover more of the costs associated in eating disorder recovery — these suits, in fact, helped fuel the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 — but I haven’t heard of a case yet in which an insurance company targeted a person or family for rescission following an eating disorder diagnosis or request for coverage in the treatment of an eating disorder.

But just because we haven’t heard of one doesn’t mean that the practice doesn’t exist.   In the case of the women with breast cancer, one woman seemed to become aware of the pattern only after joining a breast cancer support group in which four of the five women in the group saw their policies canceled as the result of their diagnosis. State agencies can and do conduct audits on health insurance providers, but companies like WellPoint have fought “vigorously” to keep incriminating information from prying government eyes.  An investigation last year by the House Energy and Commerce Committee determined that WellPoint and two of the nation’s other largest insurance companies — UnitedHealth Group Inc and Assurant Health — made at least $300 million by improperly rescinding more than 19,000 policyholders over one five-year period.  But when committee investigators asked for contact information for some of the records grudgingly produced by WellPoint, the insurance company refused to give it.   Investigators then suggested that WellPoint itself could inform the ex-policyholders that a congressional committee had interest in their case and WellPoint declined to do that as well. If you aren’t aware that a pattern of criminal behavior exists, that you’re a victim of it and that there are others like you, how do you even know to fight back?

I’m curious as to whether anyone here has had their insurance policies canceled as the result of an eating disorder diagnosis or even because of their weight or other health conditions.   Share your health insurance horror stories in the comments below.

posted in Eating Disorders, Legal Issues, Mental Health, Rachel, Recovery | 7 Comments

14th April 2010

Healthy Media for Youth Act: Can I get a ‘Hell Yeah’?!!

by Rachel

Here are the facts:

  • 90 percent of girls say the media places a lot of pressure on girls to be thin.
  • 55 percent of teenage girls admit they diet to lose weight
  • 31 percent admit to starving themselves or refusing to eat as a strategy to lose weight
  • 37 percent know a girl with a diagnosed eating disorder.
  • 66 percent of girls report being dissatisfied with their bodies.

France and Britain are currently debating laws to regulate airbrushed images in advertising and now a few of our own esteemed Congresswomen are bridging great partisan political divide to take up the fight across the pond.  Representatives Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) have introduced the Healthy Media for Youth Act (H.R. 4925), a bill to improve media literacy for youth and to encourage the promotion of healthier media messages about girls and women.

The bill, which draws  on research by Girls, Inc. and the Girls Scouts Research Institute, takes a three-pronged approach to promote healthy media messages about girls and women:  through a competitive grant program to encourage and support media literacy programs and youth empowerment groups; research on how depictions of women and girls in the media affect youth; and the creation of a National Taskforce on Women and Girls in the Media, which will develop voluntary standards that promote healthy, balanced and more positive images of girls and women in the media.  Read the bill in its entirety here.

The bill asks for $40,000,000 each year from 2011 through 2015 — a mere drop in the bucket compared to the billions we’ve given to banks and corporate fat cats.  Among its highlights:

Congress supports efforts to ensure youth improve their media literacy skills and consume positive messages about girls and women in the media that promotes healthy and diverse body images, develops positive and active female role models, and portrays equal and healthy relationships between female and male characters.

Grants will be awarded to nonprofit organizations to support programs that:  educate youth on how to apply their critical thinking skills when consuming media images and messages; promote  healthy, balanced, and positive media depictions of girls and women among youth; and counter the perpetuation and damaging effects of narrow, restrictive gender roles, stereotypes, and expectations, including the sexualization of female children, adolescents, and adults.

The Secretary, acting through the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and in coordination with the Director of the National Institutes of Health and the Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, shall review, synthesize, and conduct or support research on the role and impact of depictions of girls and women in the media on the psychological, sexual, physical, and interpersonal development of youth in areas including: childhood development; academic performance; media depictions and their affect on minority boys and girls; and how food marketing and obesity campaigns affect girls’ and boys’ body image, nutrition and exercise.

While I think that this bill is made of pure awesomeness, I’m a little wary on the emphasis on promoting “healthy” body images what with all the hoopla about childhood obesity and the prevailing delusion that the only “healthy” body is a thin body. That the Centers for Disease Control will be involved in defining and filtering these “healthy” depictions of girls and women in the media is all the more cause for concern given the center’s sorry history of launching misguided programs that only foster and even enable greater economic and social discrimination against people of size.  And as we discussed yesterday, even those on obesity task forces hold negative views and disrespectful and assumptive stereotypes of fat people, so I’m concerned that these kinds of morally-based beliefs might bleed over into programs and research supported by this bill.  However, I’m reassured by the inclusion that the bill will also promote the depiction of “diverse” body types and recognizes the potential of anti-obesity campaigns and legislation to inadvertently promote eating disorders.  I’m also heartened to see that the bill encourages a greater focus on girls and women of color and from certain socioeconomic status groups and that it also does not neglect the impact of such harmful imagery on boys.

All worries aside, this bill is certainly a step in the right direction and I encourage you to lend it your support.  You can track the bill via OpenCongress and Washington Watch.  The Girl Scouts Advocacy Network as also created a draft email that you can send to your representatives urging their support of H.R. 4925.  And be sure to send thanks to Congresswomen Baldwin and Moore Capito for putting partisan politics aside in an effort to enact real change.

posted in Body Image, Body Politic, Class issues, Eating Disorders, Feminist Topics, Mental Health, Race Issues, Rachel | 6 Comments

1st April 2010

Open post: Your school bullying stories

by Rachel

Outrage is growing in the case of Phoebe Prince, a Massachusetts teenager who hanged herself two months ago after being bullied, harassed and assaulted by classmates at school.  Nine students implicated in her torment face criminal charges, including criminal harassment, stalking and statutory rape, and parents are now calling for the firing of school administrators, whom they say knew about the bullying and did nothing to stop it.  This isn’t the first time bullying has led to such tragedy.  Remember Megan Meier?  She was the 13-year-old Missouri teen who also hanged herself after being bullied online by a former friend and her mother.  And last year I blogged about a Pennsylvania woman who sued her daughter’s school, claiming that bullying led her daughter to develop anorexia.

I don’t know the girls who tormented Phoebe Prince, but I know their type.  I faced them down each and every day of my daily school existence starting in middle school.  High school ran in slow motion.  Each day only promised yet another bottomless black hole in my existence.  Attendance was state-mandated child abuse; there was no way to avoid it.  Come morning I would stumble and begin falling, slowly, end over end, for eight hours, like a bad dream you wake up from in the middle of the night, covered in sweat, a cold lump in the pit of your stomach. I don’t think a day went by when I wasn’t called some derivation of “fat bitch.”  Girls I barely knew threatened to beat me up, spit hunks of phlegm in my hair on the bus.  Boys sent me fake love notes, hoping I’d fall for their cruel chicanery.  My only goal was to be a double negative, not seen and not heard, and so I never spoke up about the abuse, never reported it to my teachers or administrators.  Even so, I know at least a few of them witnessed it and yet they did nothing to help me or to stop it.  Reconciled to a fat girl’s passivity, I accepted my second-class status and believed that because I was fat, I was somehow less than human than those pretty, popular types and therefore deserving of the harassment.  Today, I can only wonder if some of my teachers perhaps thought the same.

In the wake of the Phoebe Prince case, hundreds of MSNBC readers have written in sharing their own abuse and bullying stories.  Kids are bullied for any reason or no reason at all, but it seems that being fat is a common theme throughout many of the submissions.  Here’s a few of their stories:

I was bullied from kindergarten through high school. I was constantly taunted as “fatty”, “fatso” and “loser” even though, looking at old photographs I was not really heavy until mid-grade school — after I took their teasing to heart. In high school, kids would follow me down the hall and hit me in the head with textbooks. At one point, for several days in a row, I was held down on the school bus and forced to ride it to the end of the route which resulted in a walk home of several miles.  I was threatened often.  I suffered from low self-esteem and depression through my entire childhood and had several bouts of suicidal ideation in my teens.  I did talk to some teachers and my parents about the bullying but I was always told to “ignore them” or “walk away”; two pieces of advice that could not be put into practice. I eventually dropped out.  Now, at almost 40 years of age I look back and think about how my life might have been different if I had not been afraid for so long and if I had learned not to hate myself sooner.

As a child I was morbidly obese. One individual in particular bullied me constantly. Slaps in the face, taunts, property destruction. I was dragged through the snow for yards once. I’ve long since left my home town. However on one return visit I was shocked to find out that this person is now a police officer!

I was always bullied throughout my school life for being overweight. I’m a guy, and yet because of all the bullying, I always had the personality of being self-conscious, low self-esteem, and a complete dislike of my body. I always, still to this day, think of what others will think of my actions. I’ve lost weight from my school days but I still remember so well feeling such depression when I was young. I know that if I didn’t have Christ in my life, I would have ended it a long time ago.

How about you?  Were you ever bullied in school?  Did anyone step in to stop it?  How did your school react to it?  How did the abuse affect you then and today?  Share your bullying stories in the comments below.

posted in Fat Bias, Mental Health, Rachel | 75 Comments

16th March 2010

Free webinar on the media and mental health recovery

by Rachel

A contact passed on this opportunity for journalists who write on eating disorders and health professionals who interact with them.  This would be a great opportunity for health professionals to harness the power of the media, while also educating them on how to report on eating disorders responsibly.

  • SAMHSA ADS Center Training Teleconference: The Power of the Media and Its Impact on Mental Health Recovery: How can the mental health community work with the media to positively and more accurately portray individuals with mental health problems? To help consumers, the general public, and the media explore this question, SAMHSA ADS Center invites you to a free training teleconference entitled “The Power of the Media and Its Impact on Mental Health Recovery.” The call will be held Friday, March 26, 2010, 3:00 p.m.–4:30 p.m., (ET). To learn more and to register, visit the following page: We encourage you to share this invitation with interested friends and colleagues. Please note: Registration will close at 5:00 p.m., ET, on Friday, March 19, 2010. Explore the SAMHSA ADS Center Website for more information at

posted in Eating Disorders, Mental Health, Rachel | Comments Off

23rd February 2010

NEDAW: Eating disorders’ forgotten victims

by Rachel

This month is Black History Month and this week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and Stephanie Armstrong addresses both in an interview on “Saturday Mornings with Joy Keys,” an interactive, live Internet talk-radio show that focuses on “providing people with tools to enrich and advance their lives mentally, physically, monetarily and emotionally.”  Stephanie  is the author of the new memoir Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat: A Story of Bulimia, in which the now 40-something, recovered, married mother of one daughter and two stepdaughters documents her descent into bulimia in her early 20s and describes her struggles as a black woman with a disorder consistently portrayed as a white woman’s disease.  The Brooklyn native also examines the “bootylicous” black woman stereotype and why the black community’s “code of silence” often leaves black women with eating disorders suffering in silence.  The work is being hailed as the first book by and among black women about eating disorders.  You may remember that Stephanie also answered the-F-word’s questions a few months ago.

Guests included Stephanie and Laurie Vanderboom, program director for the National Eating Disorders Association, which sponsors and coordinates National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.  A few interview highlights

Joy: What do you (NEDA) see when you have these programs?  Do you see a lot of African American women coming to the programs?

Laurie: We’re just beginning to and we’re just beginning to reach out.  There’s so much shame involved in an eating disorder that people hesitate to step up.  Stephanie, wouldn’t you agree that no matter what your racial make-up…

Stephanie: Absolutely, but especially coming from a culture that doesn’t support therapy, that doesn’t support getting outside help, and risking falling outside of the strong black woman archetype that we’re raised believing and have to become.  It’s hard to disassociate yourself with that image to get the help you need.


Stephanie: One of the things I always talk about, especially in the black community, is that we don’t have an awareness of what exactly bulimia is.  It’s like you go to someone’s house and they’re drinking that dieter’s tea.  That’s bulimia.  Laxative abuse is bulimia.  Diuretic abuse is bulimia.  Compulsive exercising is bulimia.  It’s like we think it’s just throwing up, but it’s not just throwing up.


Joy: I was talking with a professor of mine and he mentioned that psychologists don’t diagnose African American women properly with eating disorders, because they’re not used to seeing a African American woman coming to their office with this issue. Stephanie, do you feel that that’s the case?

Stephanie: Absolutely. Absolutely. I am constantly talking to women — some who are therapists, some who are young — who are constantly misdiagnosed. I’ve had doctors say, ‘Oh, you don’t have an eating disorder. African Americans don’t have eating disorders.’ I had a young woman call me yesterday – she goes to Clark Atlanta College and she’s at the American University in DC working on an exchange and she’s doing a paper in journalism and decided to do a paper on blacks and eating disorders because her aunt was bulimic and died from it. She calls me up and she said her teacher said, ‘Well, the problem is that there aren’t really that many black women with eating disorders, so that’s going to be a hard paper to do.’ It’s that overall belief that we don’t exist. (she briefly cites a rundown of research showing the prevalence of eating disorders among black women and girls, including this study) …the research is seeping in, but it’s still not getting the attention.

And it’s not just black women with eating disorders who are thought to be virtually non-existent.  Running Tiptoe recently posted a review of a recent “Intervention” episode featuring an Hispanic woman with an exercise addiction and a history of bulimia.  In her review, she offered this link to this 2006 study of “eating disturbances among Hispanic and native American youth,” in which it was found a much more significant pattern of disordered eating behaviors than previously thought.  There are more stats and studies on Hispanic women and eating disorders listed in this 2003 news report.*

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, eating disorders continue to persist in public opinion as a disease young, white girls from middle-class and wealthy backgrounds develop.  But eating disorders are the great equalizers: food is one of the few legal “drugs” out there; everyone needs it to survive;  and in industrialized nations, at least, is widely available and relatively cheap.  That, combined with the constant affirmations of weight loss as morally good and idolization of thinness saturating virtually every facet of our lives, and it’s no wonder that  those with emotional issues and unfulfilled needs might turn to food and the body to express a pain they cannot put into words.

Black girls and women with eating disorders.  Hispanic girls and women with eating disorders.  Adult women with eating disorders.  Boys and men with eating disorders.  Orthodox Jewish girls and women with eating disorders.  Poor girls and women with eating disorders.  We. All. Exist.

* For more information on eating disorders amongst non-white populations, see here.

posted in Anorexia, Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia, Class & Poverty, ED-NOS, Eating Disorders, Gender & Sexuality, Interviews, Mental Health, New Research, Purging Disorder, Race Issues, Rachel, Recovery | 5 Comments

22nd February 2010

NEDAW: 10 Facebook groups you should join

by Rachel

This week marks National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAW), and so we will be posting tools/resources/tips/personal stories and more this week in support of eating disorder recovery.  To kick the week off, how about checking out and joining these supportive Facebook groups (because isn’t everyone and your grandma on Facebook?).

  • Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action: The Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action promotes the recognition of eating disorders as a policy concern. This Facebook group was created so that people will know that there is hope. It is for everyone who is alarmed by the prominence and danger of eating disorders, but is unaware of what can be done to change it. We can ask our government to help create actual policies that will translate into advancing the goal of eating disorder prevention and recovery…
  • Blogging for [ED] Awareness & Recovery: A group of bloggers that write specifically about eating disorders, whether a loved one has been diagnosed or you have been yourself.  This group is *NOT* for pro-ed blogs! These are strictly recovery and awareness-minded bloggers!
  • I’m making fat socially acceptable and I’m not sorry:  This is a fat acceptance group. This group is for people who one day stumbled upon the truth that fat is not as bad as it is made out to be. In fact, most of the time fat isn’t bad at all – and even in the cases where it is (where is causes mobility or other issues) it isn’t being treated properly, and fat hatred is only hurting the issue…
  • Dear Eating Disorder,: This is a group for those of us who suffer from an eating disorder can come and write a letter to let ED know exactly what we think of it. Whether you are recovering or recovered. Whether you are struggeling or in a good place. Whether the Eating Disorder is runining your life or the life of a friends or family members its time it should know. Tell your Eating Disorder your thoughts and feelings about it. Breakup with the Eating Disorder if you want!!!
  • Start a Revolution.  Stop hating your body.: is an attempt to raise awareness about the vast array of problems that stem from body consciousness and lack of esteem including, but not limited to: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, body dysmorphic disorder, binge eating disorder, depression, and general dissatisfaction. Furthermore we acknowledge that society today has constructed a multi-billion dollar industry designed to perpetuate the desire for unattainable beauty while capitalizing on products for self-improvement. Our mission is to end corporate dominance over body esteem.
  • Men Get Eating Disorders, Too: is a web and publicity campaign that aims to raise awareness of male eating disorders to enable men to get support. The site provides essential information and advice, links to support and a message board.
  • Academy for Eating Disorders: The AED is a leading global professional association committed to promoting innovative eating disorders research,education, treatment and prevention.
  • Eating Disorders Anonymous: For those with eating disorders looking for support OR someone with a loved one suffering and needing advice as to what to do OR supporting friends with eating disorders OR wanting to know more about eating disorders and their danger [this group’s content is public, so be forewarned that it’s not exactly “anonymous,” per se).

And, of course, be sure to join The-F-Word’s Facebook page, as well as friends of the blog: Big Fat Deal and Feed Me!. Know of any other great Facebook or MySpace groups? Give them a shout out in the comments below!

f you’re slacking off at work or just killing time,

posted in Anorexia, Binge Eating Disorder, Body Image, Bulimia, ED-NOS, Eating Disorders, Fat Acceptance, Mental Health, Rachel, Recovery | 1 Comment

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