As a former professional journalist, I’ve really been biting my tongue on this Marie Claire controversy, but I didn’t want to speak without having something new or different to say. It’s not really my story, nor do I follow several of the bloggers mentioned in the article.
For those who haven’t read it and who have no desire to check the link, Marie Claire recently published a story profiling several big name healthy living bloggers and accused them of being big name examples of disordered eating and exercising.
Plenty of people have debated the lack of integrity, ethics and factual information in the Marie Claire piece. I don’t need to lend my voice to that conversation, but as time has passed, I realized that the story–regardless of whether you think it’s tabloid journalism or a landmark article that will turn health bloggers on their ears–should be instigating some heady discussions on what exactly is disordered eating and exercising. Those discussions are conspicuously absent in the hurt and defensiveness that has resulted from the publication.
Before I start, in attempting to have some integrity and honesty in the discussion, I need to acknowledge that I think the Marie Claire article started to raise some good points, but those points were overshadowed by some shoddy yellow journalism and very poor research, including referencing quotes from the blogs that were clearly taken out of context. That said, what should NOT come out of this is some crazy Marie Claire hate fest that doesn’t actually progress the conversation.
It can be difficult to distinguish the difference between commitment to a weight loss plan or training for an athletic event and disordered behavior. Both require:
- attention to detail
- making choices
Because my body refuses to lose weight at the typical recommended 1500 calorie a day diet with 45-60 minutes of daily exercise, I have to really be strict with my food and training plan. I try to stay under 1300 calories daily. And I exercise 6 times a week. With that much of a caloric limitation, I track every bite of food, I play with numbers so I can meet my calorie goal, I even avoid the dining hall at times because I can’t always trust myself around cookies. And sometimes I’m pretty damn hungry, but I don’t eat because I know it won’t help my weight loss. Other times I think I’m hungry but it’s simply my brain struggling to identify the difference between a want and a need. I am constantly checking in with myself and asking myself whether this feels and looks like a healthy living commitment or an uber-restrictive diet that’s playing mind games with me. When I feel like my diet is running my life, I back off a bit. Sometimes even if that means gaining a couple pounds. When I feel like I need more structure to realize my health, wellness and fitness goals, I become more regimented.
It is not an easy balance. How I determine whether I’m being healthy (versus overly regimented) is by being attentive to my mental health. I ask myself:
- Do I feel like I’m having issues with control?
- Do I feel stressed?
- Do I feel balanced?
- Is my diet getting the same kind of attention as my boyfriend, my family, my friends, my career?
To me, there is little (if any) difference between logging food in a notebook and taking photos of it to track. In fact, at least one study has shown that photographing food is as effective as food journaling in helping individuals track and monitor their diet in a way that’s conducive to healthy weight loss.
Of course, I’ll never be under attack and accused of having disordered eating or creating a disordered eating culture because I’m still 50lbs overweight. The food bloggers mentioned in the Marie Claire article are all of normal weight. They’re considered “thin” or “skinny” because our new normal is the extra 30+lbs of fat that the average American is carrying.
Does that mean you have to be thin to have an eating disorder? No. I’ve struggled with disordered eating and body image issues too. How can a woman NOT struggle when fashion magazines (including, but in no way limited to Marie Claire) airbrush already stick thin models to make them appear even more skinny than is humanly possible?
How do people who lose weight keep it off? The same level of tracking and commitment to eating healthy, balanced meals and exercising that got them to lose weight in the first place. Many still have to track their food. Other track what they eat, set specific calorie or activity goals and pay attention to the scale. Those who don’t are part of the overwhelming percentage of losers who gain some, all or even more weight back.
The same behavior that earns us accolades when we’re fat generates criticism when we’re at a healthy weight–even though that behavior may be what keeps us at a healthy weight.
It’s not like we get to our “happy” weight (whatever that is supposed to be) and it magically stays off forever and ever.
So what IS disordered eating? This is the best overview I’ve found.
Most importantly, we typically can’t diagnose someone by reading their blog. Just because you can see every pea shoot in their hummus on Ezekial bread and veggie sandwich doesn’t mean you understand or are even aware of their relationship with food, the decisions they make regarding food and their feelings of self-worth.
So, that’s the problem with the Marie Claire article and the resulting debate. It doesn’t address the real issue nor does it offer any solutions that will help young woman–overweight, underweight or of a healthy weight–live healthy and happy, balanced lives.
So what are you going to do about it?
My commitment is simple, and it’s what I was committed to doing long before Marie Claire stirred the healthy blogger soup pot. I’m going to make sure that I’m constantly checking my own pulse when it comes to dieting to ensure that I’m not being unhealthy in attempting to become more healthy. I’m going to challenge the thoughts of my friends and family if they seem inappropriately influenced by something that promotes disordered eating or poor self-esteem. I’m also going to support and encourage behaviors that are genuinely healthy (physically and mentally). I am not going to support debate that isn’t conducive to improving healthy lifestyles. And, really, that’s probably all we can do.