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Fatphobia in the ED community?

March 19, 2013

Trigger warning: This post is all about eating disorders.

Eating disorders (EDs) are something I have a hard time understanding outside of my own personal experience. And I know I’ve talked about this before, so forgive me if this post may be a little repetitive. I’ve said before that I’m in recovery for EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified, which is the diagnosis they give when you’re fat even if you meet the criteria for anorexia or bulimia).

See, for me, fatphobia was the center of my experience. The hatred of my own fat was everything to me. I recognize that there were aspects of control involve too. For example, when I was stressed I would often became more obsessed with eating less and it provided an amazing sense of having power over my own life. But the real reason wasn’t control. No, it was fat. I had to be thin! Not because thinness showed control over my body, but because thinness was what was accepted by society. Despite people saying “it’s not about being thin!” well… it was an awful lot about being thin. I know it’s a mental illness, not just something “normal” men and women get from social pressure, but I can’t help but think that social pressure was a huge fucking chunk of what triggered it for me.

And when I look into the windows of ED forums everywhere I see the same thing. I rarely see someone saying they feel out of control; I see them saying they feel fat. I rarely see them freaking out about the stress in their life; I see them freaking out because they gained a few pounds. See, here’s where I really need help understanding eating disorders, despite my own struggle with one. If it walks like fatphobia, talks like fatphobia, and acts like fatphobia, then how come it’s not fatphobia? At least that’s what I keep hearing from people. It’s not about the weight.

I recognize that I’m projecting. Because my own experiences with what would otherwise be classified as anorexia and bulimia were weight-centered then it’s difficult for me to not see that in other people… especially when they’re complaining about being fat. Okay okay, let’s go back. Let’s assume that eating disorders are all about control and not about being skinny. Isn’t it still inherently fatphobic? They use fat as a stand in term for disgusting, unwanted, unlovable, ugly, or worthless. They (and understand when I say “they” I’m not by any means referring to all people with EDs, just those I’ve observed) use photos of people like me as thinspiration. They weigh themselves constantly and judge their worth for the day based on what that number says. And let’s go back to that thinspiration: they use people like me to perpetuate their disease, to validate their feelings that fat is the worst thing on the planet you can be. Being fat is so bad that death and sickness are better than being that. Than being me.

Death… is better than being me. Am I your worst nightmare? I feel like shaking these people sometimes. Like telling them to snap out of it. That fat isn’t ugly, isn’t bad, isn’t worse than death. These people are my comrades, yet I constantly feel outside of the community because I’m fat. And they’re afraid of fat. They’re afraid of being what I am and have always been. I have no choice but to live in my fat body and maybe they have no choice but to fear living in my fat body, but at the end of the day, that’s what fatphobia is. That fear, that hatred, that revulsion.

Maybe I’m just rambling here. In fact, I’m pretty sure I am. But how do we combat fatphobia in the ED community without coming off as ableist or insensitive? What are your experiences with eating disorders? Did fatphobia play a big role in your ED, as it did mine? Do you think curing social fatphobia will also help in curing disordered eating and eating disorders? How much do you think fatphobia and sizism play a role? And can you explain to me how I fit into a community that would give anything to keep from being like me?

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. The Real Cie permalink
    March 19, 2013 10:14 am

    My experience and mindset were very similar before discovering size acceptance and HAES. It wasn’t that I hated other fat people. But I couldn’t be fat, because then I wouldn’t be socially acceptable.
    I also agree that this mindset would not be nearly so prevalent if it weren’t for our fat-hating culture.

  2. March 19, 2013 10:31 am

    I think you hone in on and clarify a very important truth. A truth that few people want to admit. I have been researching the topics of nutrition and obesity for over three years (I have two websites) and there is so much bullshit out there on these topics and so much taboo that keeps the bullshit from being identified. Such even infiltrates into the HAES community. One of my conclusions that I get few people to understand, even my HAES comrades, is that most obesity seems to be a reaction to previous caloric restriction. Other than children who are made to restrict calories by their parents or the insane anti childhood obesity movement, there are all of these normal weighted people going on weight loss diets due to body image problems and voila, they end up with obesity issues due to their attempts at caloric restriction. No matter how much HAES experts understand that dieting does not work and that most people end up heavier due to yo yo dieting, they still miss the connection between caloric restriction and later obesity. I believe that it all comes down fat phobia, this is what motivated these people to go on weight loss diets in the first place. Perhaps this understanding is taboo in the HAES community because the condition of obesity is supposed to be accepted by HAES advocates but their own obesity demonstrates them to be fat phobic. The truth may hurt but hiding from the truth ends up allowing the charade to continue.

    • Jillian permalink
      March 19, 2013 10:39 am

      THIS. Like I said, I was put on a diet at the age of 4 and underwent extreme caloric restriction and overexercising, first on the part of my mother and later because I thought I had to do it to be good enough for people to accept me.

    • Elizabeth permalink
      March 19, 2013 3:36 pm

      I have absolutely no issue with the idea that caloric restriction leads to eventual weight gain. First, I have observed it in my companion animals. Cats and dogs who went hungry — through being dumped, through being starved to attain some vet’s definition of a healthy weight, for whatever reason — end up being my fattest pets. Then there is me. I was an average weight child then my mother became obsessed with my weight, putting a lot of pressure on me, and one summer I starved myself and exercised a lot. Needless to say, I have never again been that thin. Starvation causes the body to increase hunger hormones because the body wants to survive, and starvation equals death.

      • The Real Cie permalink
        March 21, 2013 12:05 am

        The vet decided that one of my cats was too fat, so she had me buy this heinously expensive weight reduction food. It was obviously not satisfying, the cats were pestering me for food all day even though I fed them the same amount of the “lite” crap that I did of their usual. (Blue Buffalo during a good pay period, Purina One during a tight one.) I never bought the reduced calorie crap again. I like to get some sleep sometimes. I only have to fill their bowls once a day with Blue Buffalo or Purina One. The Lite stuff was gone within the morning and they were hungry the rest of the day.

        • Elizabeth permalink
          March 22, 2013 8:15 am

          Cie, I heard years ago that cats should never be put on “diets.” I have two fat cats, one from the shelter who was a stray and obviously abused, and the other a kitten who showed up who had been dumped at least two or three days previously. They can both run like hell (they go outdoors) and that’s how I judge my animals: Can they move? I had a vet tell me my dog was too fat and I said you should watch him run; he keeps up with my truck when I’m going up a steep hill. He looked at me disbelievingly. I sort of began to get the idea that what they want to say is, “YOU really need to lose weight,” but they can’t, so they pick on my animal.

    • The Real Cie permalink
      March 21, 2013 12:17 pm

      “most obesity seems to be a reaction to previous caloric restriction.”
      Can I please get a Hallelujiah?
      I tell people all the time that I had to STOP DIETING so I wouldn’t get any heavier. I get a lot of blank stares.
      I started bulimic behavior when I was 12. It was in control on and off throughout my 20’s and 30’s, although I continued with yo-yo dieting until I was in my mid-forties and discovered HAES and Size Acceptance (thank all that’s holy!)
      My weight finally leveled off (and I actually lost some) when I had stopped dieting for a couple of years, just ate normally, and started exercising again, this time for health and because I wanted to rather than for weight loss.

    • BellaB permalink
      March 22, 2013 1:45 am

      I had a bit of “puppy fat” about 10.

      My father, between 10 and 12 until nearly 17, started me on a severely restrictive diet (1x piece of toast no topping, meal replacement cardboard bar and a small amount of main meal – eg a very small piece of meat – and salad with no topping / dressing). No one else in the family (step mother and three step siblings). My mother disagreed but she “nagged” and was happy enough to tell me that “Fatties are a waste of time / space”, “Fattie are stupid” (much like my father) etc

      Subsequently I had bulimic behaviour for 18 years, but instead of controlling my weight I ballooned massively and now have to content with morbid obesity.

      Now I have to deal with the consequences of that. I try to eat correctly (very difficult as I have the worst cravings for sugary foods, the exact foods that were banned and I was punished for having between 10 and 12) and I really enjoy exercise which is good.

  3. Jillian permalink
    March 19, 2013 10:37 am

    I don’t think it isn’t entirely about weight. I think that life stress and being a coping mechanism for abuse is definitely a big player, though, for most with EDs. I used to help moderate the only ed group on livejournal that supposedly accepted bigger girls with EDs. I noticed that ‘big’ seems to mean 160-170 lbs. And most of them were just using the forum to discuss their eating habits, etc. and not try to get better. I would make posts telling people to respect others’ EDs, since I have struggled with all of them at one point or another myself, originally restricting and overexercising, then bulimia, then eventually binge eating disorder with sometimes bulimia tendencies. I tried to tell the girls to try their best to mitigate the severity of the disease by at least not doing extremely risk-taking things like HCG. Nobody listened to me, of course, and they continued to disrespect the people with BED or who were fatter and do extremely risky things to their bodies. I eventually just said… I tried, I give up. This was a few years ago, so after hearing about the BEDA convention I am really hoping that there can at least be an insular community formed to protect those with BED and people with EDs that are heavier. Because when I was inpatient my treatment was compromised by a lot of bullying. And I see this bullying and crap everywhere towards fat people with EDs and people with BED. There was recently a post on thought catalog about a woman complaining about her ED and she mentions ‘why can’t she at least have a disorder that makes her look hot.’ I’m just…. there is a certain point where this whole thing gets so ridiculous I can’t even speak clear English words anymore. I just go agealg;adhgad’g;vawhgad;lgfaewgh What The Actual Fuck.

    • Mulberry permalink
      March 20, 2013 12:44 am

      “There was recently a post on thought catalog about a woman complaining about her ED and she mentions ‘why can’t she at least have a disorder that makes her look hot.’”

      Statements like this make me RAGE and have a strong desire to beat the person over the head with my oxygen tank. (Just a fantasy, though.) See, I have a disease for which the drugs alone shaved off a significant amount of weight. The weight loss is OUT OF MY CONTROL, and I hope people remember that the phrase “weight control” ought to apply in both directions. It is a life-threatening illness and I would gladly trade it to anyone in exchange for taking, say, 50 pounds off them.

      Intentional or not, but people like this woman trivialize people like me. And if someone says “I feel fat” to me, I have a mind to answer, “Goody! We can shop at Lane Bryant together.”
      It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to people who have problems with self-hate; I just don’t want to be used as a whipping-girl.

      • Jillian permalink
        March 20, 2013 4:24 pm

        Completely agree. I almost regret not raging at them over that statement now. =/

      • JennyRose permalink
        March 20, 2013 5:07 pm

        My swollen glands and need to go to the bathroom to throw up after eating did not make me look hot. I guess she didn’t want what I had either. @Mulberry – love the Lane Bryant reply.

      • The Real Cie permalink
        March 21, 2013 12:08 am

        These days when someone says they “feel fat,” I feel like suggesting that we sell them to a hog farm. Of course I’m a heinous curmudgeon. I’m like the human version of Tard the Grumpy Cat, but not nearly as cute.
        I’m sorry to hear that you have to live with such a serious illness.

  4. Deadgrrrl permalink
    March 19, 2013 11:36 am

    This is exactly why I never sought help for my ED. Anorexia is seen as a GOOD thing when you’re fat.

    Curing fatphobia would change so many aspects of ED’s, how they’re treated, and the ED community. I’m sure there will still be people who eat in a disordered way and it isn’t always about avoiding fatness, but there’s SO MUCH about avoiding fatness that I suspect ED cases would drop to a rare instance if we eradicated the social stigma attached to fatness.

    This post was brilliant. Thank you.

  5. March 19, 2013 4:04 pm

    This is a subject so close to my heart! I’m not sure if you heard about the BEDA conference that just took place in Maryland, but there was a great deal of coming together around the issues of fat phobia, weight stigma, associated with Eating Disorders especially since BED has just been moved from EDNOS to it’s own diagnosis code. I wrote about the conference on my website if you want to check it out. It wasn’t perfect but I felt a great deal of movement in the area that you wrote about.

  6. JennyRose permalink
    March 19, 2013 4:09 pm

    I came to FA via an ED. I was a regular on a board called Something Fishy and it did help. Then there was huge drama between those who had EDs who were overweight. A few of the most prominent members started talking about the need for “weight restoration” for fat people. The claimed it was the same as anorexia and if an anorexic needed to gain weight to heal, then a fat person needed to loose weight to heal. Things became very contentious and I left the board. I had outgrown it by working with a therapist who advocated HAES etc. A friend from Something Fishy began her own FA blog and I never returned to the Fishies.

    There was a lot of fat-phobia (both internalized and external on that board). Many people were intolerant, refused to listen and insisted thin = healthy. (The same can be said for many people without EDs as well.) There was a raging debate wether a fat therapist could help in recovery. Many people said such a person could not help because she could not even cure herself. Fat, to that rather populous group, was evidence of not being able to control ones appetite or bingeing. Others were open -minded to think she might be bright and talented and could be of help to someone with an ED even if she could not help herself. I was not anit-fat except for myself. I have always been a compasionate person and didn’t blame fat people for their own “problems (fatness).” I also felt very bad for them before I learned about weight and health not being that closely related.

    A lot of ED recovery is messed up and promotes thinness, vs truly being underweight as the ideal. Even anorectics are encouraged to gain some wieght but to be careful about becoming overweight.

    I was bulimic for many years. I ate enormous quantities of food and purged because I was always on a diet. Then the time came when I could no longer restrict and I rebelled by eating massive amounts of food and purged. It didn’t take long before I was doing so several times a day. Most of it was in response to dieting and my fear of being fat. Other factors such as my depression and low blood sugar also played a role. I exercised, counted calories and generally hated myself to get thin.

    I too agree that we can diet ourselves up to a weight that is higher than it would ordinarily be. I think that if people allowed themselves to follow HAES, they might not be as big and would have a better relationship with food. Our weight is the result of more than just genetics. We can go beyond our genetic predispostion by dieting and gaining weight. I also egnaged (still do) in emotional eating.

    I spend a lot of time on This is Thin Privilege and it seems everyone on their feels great about their body, exercises and eats quality food. I don’t like my body (still working on that) exercise fairly regularly and eat lots of processed food and sugar items. I am trying to accept that I am a big eater because I have a big appetite, not because I am an out of control freak. I was given great advice that it is OK to have a big appetite and it is OK to eat more than (I think) other people eat.

    So my answer is yes of course, fat-phobia and the promise of being thin contributes to EDs. It did to mine and I don’t think I am the only one. I am not that special of a snow flake.

  7. violetyoshi permalink
    March 19, 2013 7:38 pm

    I hope we can do this, because it’s impossible to be a fat person on Tumblr, without your posts being used by the ED community to mock, or images of fat people being used as thinspiration. As well as things, like the notion that thin people suffer discrimination too, and why can’t I love my bones if you can love your fat. They don’t understand, we cannot just love our fat bodies, society condemns us for doing so. There also have been some horrific posts where people with EDs disparage fat bodies, then they turn around and act shocked they may have triggered or upset someone by saying fat people are disgusting ect. ect.

    It’s just a huge clusterf**k on Tumblr in terms of body shaming. It doesn’t help that Tumblr has weak moderation, cowering in the corner afraid of the big bad laws saying they can’t reel in cyberbullies. I’m posting about this, because it relates very much to this notion of “I can’t helllppp it!” when it comes to posting hateful things about fat bodies. Yes someone with an ED has a mental illness, no that doesn’t mean they have a right to post things that will hurt others. I have depression, that doesn’t mean I can blast Marilyn Manson in front of a church.

    • The Real Cie permalink
      March 21, 2013 12:10 am

      There are only a couple of blogs that I ever look at on Tumblr any more. One of them is “This is Thin Privilege.” Boy do they ever get some freaking douchebags trolling them. But they always put said douchebags in their place.

  8. Lindsay permalink
    March 19, 2013 8:36 pm

    I was fatphobic during many of the years of my ED, and I do not believe I would have developed an ED if I wasn’t afraid of becoming fat. Yes, I’ve got probably got some genetic predispositions – underlying tendencies toward anxiety and depression which made me more vulnerable- but I strongly believe my eating disorder was fueled by my family and cultural environment.

    I also think my self starvation during times fueled the fat phobia because i wanted to believe there was a reason for the constant agony I was in. I felt anger toward people who ate freely because I wanted to eat so bad and if I didn’t feel angry I would eat freely and then I would gain weight. I knew some thin people ate freely too, but I knew I had to restrict my eating to be that thin. Keep in mind I was never underweight during any point of my ED – I yoyo’d quite a bit but was still “normal” at my thinnest.

    FA blogs were beginning, baby steps toward my recovery. For awhile it was something I read to comfort myself for not being thin – but I still could not internalize the messages. Only after I was formally treated and stopped engaging in behaviors for extended periods of time did I start to slowly internalize the message toward myself. Now I feel much more supported in FA communities than I do eating disorder communities (and so many of us in FA have ED histories, so it’s not as if I lack people to relate to that side of me). Despite knowing how it feels to be in that dark place and thinking those thoughts, I have little tolerance for reading fat phobic posts anymore by an ED sufferer. It just hurts too much.

    I believe you can support people with eating disorder without tolerating abusive behavior toward fat people. It does not make it less harmful just because the person is suffering an ED. I like ED communities which establish ground rules about what things are not to be said and I think not tolerating fat phobic remarks or body shaming should be high priority on those rule lists. I also think that introducing people with eating disorders to FA ideas and communities should be the norm in treatment.

  9. angrygrayrainbows permalink
    March 20, 2013 9:56 am

    Thank you for this blog post. Years ago because of this very thing, I felt very betrayed by the ED recovery community. You weren’t really in an advanced state of recovery unless you were seeking weight loss. You weren’t “recovered” unless you were on a food plan and probably counting calories. This was when I left the ED Recovery community that I had sheltered in for many years and found my home with Body Acceptance and HAES.

    There were even long talks criticizing certain members who were deemed “bone crushingly huge,” because it was decided they would be healthier trying to diet in a way approved by that community than just trying to live the healthiest life possible without restricting food. You weren’t really recovered unless you could somehow diet without getting triggered and get yourself to some weight that was approved by that community.

    You weren’t really recovered until you could join JennyCraig and Weight Watchers without being triggered and then losing weight. Right. So people who probably already dieted their weights higher than they would’ve been otherwise can diet themselves even bigger. I think that dieting will have far worse health consequences for those folks than if they just tried to accept themselves and live full lives without dieting.

    And how much are anorexics and bulimics being held back in their recovery from the fear of not gaining “too much” as specified by their support group and/or treatment team?

    I avoid ED Recovery communities that aren’t FA and HAES friendly. I find it triggering and toxic to spend time in places that aren’t and I think these places are doing their members a great disservice by keeping the focus on weight rather than health and sanity.

    I think our general cultural fat phobia feeds into this. If there wasn’t so much cultural fat phobia, I don’t think I would’ve developed an eating disorder. I used to think my body was awesome until the kids at school and the television told me different. People assumed this and that about me. This horrified me and I set about to change myself, so that I would be accepted. I don’t think there would be nearly as many eating disorders today, if fat phobia weren’t so accepted and even popular in our culture.

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