Ignorance and irresponsibility

This month’s Grazia suggests that the ‘on/off’ diet, otherwise known as ‘Alternate Day Fasting’, is the perfect solution for those who find staying on a diet a mission, and following a “month of mince pies”.

It proposes 400 calories on ‘on’ days, and a modest amount on those in between.

It was my understanding that the brain needs about 500 calories a day to function.

This leaves us 100 calories short.

The article left me cold.

It left me cold because it normalises and endorses eating patterns that verge on starvation; and, in the act of doing so, infers that our appearance is more important than our selves -

Just like the guy on Twitter.

Over the past few days, an irresponsible and deeply unpleasant tweeter has been posting updates about managed anorexia and size zero. It’s created a frenzy of anger and, slightly more positively, a flurry of body positive counter-tweets – but neither have really taken the edge off how disturbing this is.

There is no such thing as managed anorexia. Eating disorders spiral and constrict and smother and, ultimately, kill.

It has been a while since I have written about eating disorders in a more general sense, or in response to news articles. I have, perhaps, been overly aware that I might not be the most objective commentator and a little less courageous about sharing my opinions than I might like. I have also been conscious that controversy attracts attention, and there is a fine line between entering a discussion with a purpose – and playing straight into someone’s game. I hope that this post does not fall into the latter – only the depth of my unease in relation to the article, and the tweet stream, has left me feeling like I don’t have a voice. The conversation is almost not worth engaging in – and yet, the message is so dangerous that the other side must be heard –

Because advocating a 400 calorie diet is utterly irresponsible, and any promotion of anorexia demonstrates an ignorance that negates the experiences of those suffering, whilst causing untold harm to those who are vulnerable enough to take on board the rubbish that is being said.

I am not sure what the solution is. I am almost more scared by the fact that a mainstream magazine shows such little accountability than that one disturbed individual is causing outrage on Twitter. At least in this forum, there are people who are standing up against him –

There is no one challenging Grazia’s message or how it is being interpreted in people’s heads.

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18 Responses to “Ignorance and irresponsibility”

  1. Sashagoblin says:

    can we organise some kind of public backlash/boycott?

  2. Grace says:

    Shocked by the Grazia thing. Where is the line between diets and disordered eating? This sounds like encouraging people to enter into disordered eating patterns. And what happens to the mind at 400 calories? I have been there and it is not good – and it can spiral and then it’s not about dieting but about starving. I don’t read these magazines and I’m glad x

  3. Vanessa says:

    January is AWFUL for ED triggers. Everything is diet, diet, diet, gym, gym, gym – I keep joking that it makes me feel like throwing my lunch up all over a (badly photoshopped) Special K advert, just to get it out of my sight, but it’s only a half-joke, really. Granted, Grazia, etc. are always full of diets and fads that will apparently change out lives, but January seems to be even worse.

  4. magicplum says:

    Totally agree with you on this. Are you going to write to Grazia? It’s crazy for them to suggest this. Even when someone who is clinically overweight and a diet is suggested by doctors, they are not advised to eat as little as 400 calories a day. Madness :-(

  5. Claire says:

    I am not convinced that guy is legit, it whiffs of something, disgusting all the same. Thank goodness you didn’t name the creature, his following count already went from 9′000 when I first saw it, to 20′000+ just now.

  6. Evan says:

    400 calories! That’s insane.

    Perhaps a 1 was dropped off the front in type-setting or something.

    I hope the magazine gets many outraged responses.

  7. talkingtocactus says:

    that kenneth tong thing is disgusting, and for a respected mag like grazia to promote this kind of thing is totally wrong too, they should be promoting health before whether their readers conform to industry standards.

    on a vaguely related note, did you see america’s next top model tonight (it was on living tv, it aired in the states a while ago i think)? there was one girl on it who was painfully thin, even by modelling show standards – a combined panel of jay manuel, nigel barker, tyra, that vogue bloke whose name i always forget and, crucially i think, diane von furstenburg (crucial not just because she’s a mega designer but also because she chairs a board of fashion designers who aim to keep the industry healthy and so on) all said they were disturbed by how thin she was in her photoshoot, and that most of the pics were unusable, and when they spoke to her about it she said she was “trying to get lean” – actually she said that in a defensive way as if she had felt they were saying she was too big (jay responded with “you really don’t need to try!”) and then said she liked to be able to see her muscles in the mirror and that they may all say she was too thin but she knew she wasn’t and so on. it was classic ED really – anyway, they eliminated her, they said that regardless of this cycle being geared more towards high fashion than commercial (high fashion being perhaps more demanding in that area) they had to promote health first and couldn’t let her carry on while she was under those misapprehensions.

    the way i wrote it makes it sound like they were really harsh on her, they weren’t, you know how tyra is, she’s so mumsy, but i think they made the right decision. it was quite sad in a way, but also (and here i will sound mean) it was hard to sympathise with her because she was a really nasty girl.

    anyway, having just gone all bitchy in that last para, what i’m saying is i think ANTM did the right thing in (a) picking her up on it, (b) not letting her carry on and (c) telling her her body image was skewed. i’m not saying they necessarily went about it in the right way, but i think in this media environment where skinny is revered so much, it was a step in the right direction. surely stuff like that is better than promoting unhealthy diets?

    wow, waffle on!

  8. James says:

    There are ugly, unhealthy messages being spread out there and it is very frustrating and worrying. Your blogpost here Melissa though is, in my view, the best response I’ve read so far.

    The Twitter man isn’t worth the time of day or the energy and Grazia magazine – and the wider print media as a whole – needs to be aware and be held to account but shrieking and hysteria is only going to make these debates more intense and people more upset. I’m seeing people turn very ugly in their anger in response to a lot of appalling things out there on the internet and it’s upsetting to thing that the perpetrators of all this hate and negativity have got to them (if that makes sense). Thanks for writing such a well-considered blog post and here’s to reason and healthy, responsible messages.

  9. girlundiscovered says:

    Hi,

    Just to put in my two-penneth on this one, I agree that it isn’t right for magazines to push dieting of any kind and especially starvation-style diets.

    I too saw ANTM last night, and whilst I enjoy the show normally, was left cold as no one actually said to this girl “are you okay?”.

  10. girlundiscovered says:

    Oohh… and I forgot to say that whilst the girl on ANTM did come across as mean and aggressive, I think it’s important to remember that starving and having an ED can make people behave in this way.

    I discussed this with my flatmates, as it’s important to look past the behaviours and see a person who might be in a lot of pain.

  11. *cries*

    It seems pro-ana is now mainstream.

    I’m waiting for a magazine to run an “eat as much as you like as long as you throw it up afterwards” feature.

  12. talkingtocactus says:

    girlundiscovered – that’s a good point, they (and i, tbh) should’ve been more aware that her behaviour would’ve been affected by any ED she might have, and certainly should’ve been concerned about her and asked if she was ok. i can sort of understand why the girls didn’t because she really wasn’t very nice to them and in that kind of environment alienation happens so fast (i was at boarding school so i can vouch for this, then again it should’ve made me more sympathetic) but the judges didn’t have the same viewpoint and should’ve asked.

  13. Apparently it was all a hoax.

    What a fool.

  14. girlundiscovered says:

    Talkingtocactus:

    Yes, it was the responsibility of those making the ANTM show to a) not put her through in the first place and b) having put her through, and realised there was something not quite right, show concern for her welfare and not her potential modelling future – that may come if she is well.

    It was a really interesting example of how people react to others who have issues with size and shape. It was also perhaps a risky strategy as it was pretty upsetting to see – and perhaps ‘thinspirational’ to others…

  15. Melissa says:

    This post felt quite risky for me as I’m normally quite cautious about naming names or sticking my neck out, so a big thank you for the comments and support.

    Sashagoblin – I won’t be buying grazia again. Or reading anyone else’s copy. I don’t know if that counts as a boycott but I guess we can only talk about things like this and then make sure that we act in the same way.

    Grace – totally agree. I checked it out with a doctor too, and the brain alone needs more than that too work. It’s a scary thought.

    Vanessa – yes, I’d been side-stepping anything resolution related (in the interest of balance and exploration, rather than restriction) – but it seems there’s an escalating trend towards ‘change your life in January’ type writing. Which might explain why this is so extreme?

    Magicplum – I tweeted them and got no response. Twice. I also tweeted beat but I think they stay under the radar. It’s been frustrating to feel ignored.

    Claire – yes, you were right. I was just baffled. Vile.

    Evan – the most disturbing thing was that they gave meal plans. I hope that they apologise next time too. I won’t be paying for the next copy though….

    talkingtocactus – thanks for sharing that. It was really interesting. Highlighted how many different messages the media is giving out and also raised some really interesting questions around contradictions and also what happens when you had a human face into the equation.

    girlundiscovered – brilliant point and thanks so much for these comments. It’s such a complicated issue and you really made me think about the intersection between physical / emotional, and people/food.

    Thanks James – was unsure about mentionning or writing about twitter thing but I found it really hard that he came into a space I consider safe, positive and healthy. Made his horrible comments even worse. It’s hard to join in the media debate without apportioning blame so totally agree that it’s just about giving out healthy messages and moving towards this.

    Thanks for your support sanabituranima. xx

  16. Harriet says:

    “It was my understanding that the brain needs about 500 calories a day to function.

    This leaves us 100 calories short.

    The article left me cold.”

    900 calories or under is clinically classed as starvation, and the threshold for malnutrition is higher than that (about 1200 calories, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation). Could you clarify what you meant here? My head takes it to mean that 500 calories is an acceptable amount for me to eat.

  17. Melissa says:

    Hi Harriet,

    No I totally didn’t mean that 500 kcal is the amount that we need and I’m really sorry if it sounded like this. I meant that I understood 500 to be the amount the brain ALONE (before walking and existing and getting around and everything else) required just to function and certainly not enough for someone to survive on. I don’t know the exact amounts (although I did check out the brain figure with a professional) so please don’t take this post as a point of reference in terms of calories. Is that ok?

    Melissa

  18. Harriet says:

    Thank you. I knew you wouldn’t mean that really – I was just triggered and I had to shut the thoughts up. :)