Monday, February 25, 2013

Eating Disorder Awareness Week

If you are in this business long enough, your calendar becomes littered with heath observances throughout the year. Every health-related association chooses a day, week, or month to be the primary focus of their outreach. There's Hemophilia Awareness Month, National School Breakfast Week, National Poison Prevention Week, and World Kidney Day -- and that's just a sampling of observances in March.

Like just about any other week, this week marks another one of those awareness periods. This one is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, by the National Eating Disorders Association.

Normally, this observance would be relegated to back along with poison prevention and kidney health.  That's not to say that they aren't important -- they all are -- but I'd don't see any reason to chime in on all of them.  This time, it did jump out at me.  Here's why.

As I started this blog and looked for pictures that I could use to add some color to my not-so-colorful words, I discovered that Tumblr is a great place to find those images.

In case you aren't familiar with it, Tumblr is a social media platform that is kind of a cross between Facebook and Pinterest. It is very image-friendly with ability to also post text, links, quotes, and videos. You create an account where you can "follow" any number of "blogs" that are maintained by other users. Users can add comments or share your posts -- "reblog" using Tumblr terminology -- for their followers to see.

Note:  A word for the wise, Tumblr can become very "not safe for work" very quickly -- particularly when looking at topics related to the human body, like fitness.  Be careful who is around when you try it out at first. 

In finding all of the cool images that I use for this blog, I noticed a troubling trend.  There are a lot of users who purposely promote eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.  They have usernames that are variations on ana(anorexia), mia(bulimia), starving, skin and bones, wasting away, dead inside, translucent, suicide, and skeleton.  I even found a post today by someone looking for an "ana buddy" to support each other through their knowingly unhealthy weight loss.

Here's a sampling of what I found there today.  You'll note I'm not including links to the source as I normally would.  I'll provide examples here but I refuse to even implicitly support such content by linking back to it.

We've all heard this message presented as a bad joke in teen movies, but this is for real. 

We would all like to think that this was meant to push readers away from self-harm through eating, but we would be mistaken.  This image is more of a dark realization of what a "pro-ana" person sees as perfection.
It got so bad that last winter, Tumblr had to explicitly ban pro-eating disorder and other self-harm blogs.  Tumblr decided to walk the fine line between refusing to promote self-harm and allowing users to speak -- or type -- freely.  The end result was to remove some of the most glaring content, but much of it still remains.  A lot of "pro-ana" blogs have small notes places that claim they aren't pro-self-harm, but the underlying message is still there.  Those notes are a lot like the "drink responsibly" message on beer commercials -- although probably much less sincere. 

The other problem is that a lot of well-intentioned content is reinforcing the unhealthy message.  After all, a trick that helps a dieter avoid an unhealthy snack on the way home from work and also help a sufferer skip a meal.  A motivational message encouraging an overweight reader to stick with it can encourage a sufferer to, well, do the same.  Some examples: 

This one is particularly scary.  While a lot of good weight loss resources tell you not to eat late at night, that's bad advice.  Keeping your metabolism up while you sleep is a good thing.  This advice is given because so many people eat so poorly at the end of the day.  For them, the thinking goes, nothing is better than something.

This is the sort of thing I've learned not to post. It's a fine line and here is where I draw it.
Here are some more examples:

In the context of eating disorders, you could see each one of these leading to painfully unhealthy behavior and terrible consequences.  Perhaps you could come up with a rationale for why any one of these individual posts should not be posted while the other ones should.  But I would have a tough time claiming to know better than the person who posted them -- it was me on my Tumblr blog

To show that this community continues to evolve, there has been a new trend in concern about a person's "thigh gap" -- the gap between a person's thighs.  This Huffington Post writer says that the trend dates back to the Victoria Secret fashion show last December.  Presumably, girls aren't thin enough unless they have a gap between their thighs when they stand up.  Now, some women will have the gap while others won't.  One expert compared it to having freckles.  The problem is that some women think they are fat or overweight if they don't see that gap. 

The person who posted this wants to be the one on the left.
There is some good news out there though.  Even on Tumblr, there is a backlash from people who know it isn't right.  Here's a set of examples, all from my Tumblr blog

If there's one thing that I want to get across today, it's the fact that eating disorders are real and real people suffer from them.  The NEDA's theme this year is "Everybody knows somebody."  And based on my poking around Tumblr today looking for pictures to post here, I would bet you know more than just one somebody. 

The NEDA asks everyone to do "just one thing" to help raise awareness.  And from what I've seen, the awareness is needed.  So, this blog post is my one thing.  What is yours?  Maybe you could read the warning signs and make sure your children or friends children aren't displaying them?  Maybe forward some info to a few friends who would benefit from the knowledge? 

Also know this..  Just like any other trouble, help is just a simple Google search away.  Or, if you're really lazy, here's the likely result of that Google search:


Unknown said...

Wonderfully written. I never knew EDAW existed and playing collegiate sports I witnessed all too many of these behaviors. It's nice to see a healthy alternative and it coming from a male fitness professional!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I enjoyed reading this post and I am happy to see a fitness professional sharing a healthy and positively reinforcing piece.

UbiTrack said...

great blog