Beyond Central Casting: The Problem with Eating Disorder “Types”
April 23, 2011

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Earlier this week, in response to Casey’s awesome Green Recovery story, Bitt and Courtney asked me for my opinion on this article by Kevin Gianni. Gianni is a very popular voice on natural health and plant based diet.

Gianni’s article is entitled “Which Kind of Disordered Eater are You?” His premise is that “It seems like the health world attracts (particularly the raw food world) a fair share of people who hide their issues behind the guise of “healthy eating.” Gianni goes on to outline what he thinks the 8 types of disordered eaters who frequent the raw/vegan worlds are: the professional dieter, the dogmatist, the addiction switcher, the anorexic raw foodist, the toxic ostrich, the serial detoxer, the healthy binge-er, and the quick-fixer. I don’t think I have to explain each and every one of these stock type labels: the titles say it all. But if you’re interested, check the article out, so that my response makes sense.

I’ll admit it: I read much of this article with a chuckle. Gianni has a knack for bringing stock types to life. When I started reading about the “toxic ostrich,” for instance, I had to crack a smile:

The Toxic Ostrich is always worried about toxins. Toxins in the body, toxins in the air, toxins in their clothes, or toxins in Antarctica…The truth is, there is very little we can do about many of the environmental toxins that we are exposed to on a regular basis. We have to do our best and push on with things we can control like our exercise, nutrition and emotional health.

It’s a good point. Yes, it’s fair to be concerned about toxicity in the environment and our food. But if we’re all to retain our sanity, we simply have to stop fretting over each and every chemical or unwanted substance we’re exposed to, and have faith that healthy living offers us sufficient protection to enjoy our lives. The serenity prayer comes to mind: we have to accept the things we cannot change, and have the courage to change the things we can.

I also smiled at Gianni’s takedown of the serial detoxer:

The Serial Detoxer is always detoxing, many times to the point of deficiency. If the Serial Detoxer is not detoxing, they think that any blemish, burp, hiccup or fart is caused by a toxin in the body that needs to be detoxed out though a fast, a diet, a supplement regimen or chelation…the Serial Detoxer is always on a juice fast, a mono-meal diet or a water fast to cleanse from toxins that have accumulated in their body from the organic lettuce they picked out of their garden.

The reason why the Serial Detoxer is a danger to themselves is because they couldn’t fathom that any signs the body gives them like fatigue, acne, rashes, or hospitalization could be caused by their disordered eating and nutrient deficiencies.

This chronic juice faster is generally a control freak and has had a history of disordered eating and food addiction in the past.

I don’t think I have to tell you guys that my skin tends to crawl when I hear yet another young woman tell me about the “cleanse” she’s doing, or when I watch as readers confuse symptoms of malnourishment and fatigue (brought on by the rigorous and restrictive regimens that these cleanses demand) with “detox.” These habits can be addictive for men and women with disordered histories. I also think that Gianni is right to point out that attributing any itch, scratch, or stomach grumble to “toxicity” (that might be purged through “cleansing”) is a dangerous game. Human bodies, no matter how healthy, offer us occasional complaints, and it’s important to distinguish those everyday annoyances from deeper health conditions that do actually necessitate lifestyle changes.

As you can see, I find that many of Gianni’s observations are truthful. What I don’t like about the piece is its tone, which strikes me as frequently glib and lacking in compassion.

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In fairness, Gianni’s writing style tends to be provocative—his readers probably expect that provocation when they read–so there’s nothing out of the ordinary about this particular blog post. And I believe Gianni’s fundamental mission is to help people improve their own health, so I’m grateful to him for his candor in carrying that mission out. But when it comes to disordered eating, the terrain is delicate and complex. As someone who writes about EDs weekly, I’ve realized that they demand sensitive, nuanced, and respectful language. Anything less, unfortunately, isn’t enough.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made as a blogger is to discuss EDs too broadly in the past, assuming that the patterns of one ED were the same as the patterns of another. While I think it can be helpful to discuss common risk factors for EDs, and to analyze some of their shared patterns, we also have to realize that EDs take all shapes and sizes. Not all anorexics are “type A” perfectionists, not all bulimics have a family history of substance abuse, and not all ED sufferers are middle class white women (the body of literature on EDs in minority groups and in men is rapidly growing, and it’s really interesting stuff).

Does that mean it’s wrong to talk about the traits that many ED sufferers have in common? No, of course not. That’s probably a healthy conversation. But I think that we have to resist too many generalizations, and it seems to me that Gianni’s article is awash in them.

It’s also full of a lot of grating pop psychology:

The Professional Dieter likely found the raw food diet or other health food diet by a Google search for “diets I haven’t tried yet.”

Luckily, the raw food diet or others (paleo, vegan, etc.) are many worlds healthier than most of the others that they’ve tried before.

The negative side is that after they lose 5-10 pounds and then gain it back after a vacation to Disneyland, they move on to the next New York Times Bestselling diet book.

Of all these personalities, the Professional Dieter is the one who is most likely addicted to food and most likely spends more time taking care of others than taking care of themselves.

This is why they can never focus long enough on one diet to actually make progress.

This description is not only littered with stereotyping (and let’s be honest, it’s clearly aimed at middle class mothers), but also heavily condescending. And unfortunately, the assumptions don’t always stand up to scrutiny: in my line of work, I see countless chronic dieters, and they most certainly do not always spend more time caring for others than for themselves. Many are young professionals with no family or social obligations whatsoever.

And it continues:

This chronic juice faster is generally a control freak and has had a history of disordered eating and food addiction in the past.

The Serial Detoxer can be cured by professional help or anyone who can help them feel loved and supported no matter what they look or feel like.

Really? Are all chronic juice fasters control freaks? Certainly not in my experience. Nor, in my experience, are all of them easily cured by the gift of love. While many who suffer from eating disorders have been deprived of love and acceptance in the past, many others have received it amply; the stereotype of the under-loved child who develops disordered eating is not without validity, but it doesn’t hold true for everyone. What some ED sufferers need is not to feel loved by others, but rather to develop hobbies, passions, and pursuits in life that encourage a sense of self-love that comes from within. Or perhaps a combination of the two!

I also raised eyebrows here:

Generally, the Quick-Fixer is a trusting and caring individual who is willing to try anything except those things that will really work for their issue.

The disorder or addiction here is to instant gratification and aversion to real work.

It’s hard to convince the Quick-Fixer that it will take more than a drop of essential oil to heal their open wound.

Any time you go to someone’s house and see more than three dusty health gadgets littering their family room, you know you’re in the presence of a Quick-Fixer.

What makes these examples so progressively vexing is that they each begin with at a truthful premise: there are, of course, many people who enter the natural health world hoping for quick fixes from supplements, gadgets, and superfoods. But I think it’s absurd to psychoanalyze these individuals based solely on their propensity to seek out rapid solutions to big problems: I mean, don’t we all occasionally let ourselves drink a bit of health Kool-Aid? I certainly have, and so has Kevin Gianni. Having worked with many self-identified quick fixers, I can also assure you that they are not universally “trusting”; many are perspicacious (or even skeptical) individuals who are nevertheless tempted to suspend disbelief for a particular vitamin or hyped up raw food claim. The cause of the quick fix impulse is often desperation over chronic ill health or weight gain, and not, as Gianni suggests, a general tendency to be gullible.

And then there’s my favorite: the “anorexic raw foodist.”

The Anorexic Raw Foodist is a past (and present) anorexic who’s found it very convenient to hide their eating disorder under the guise of raw food.

Raw food is the perfect disguise because The Anorexic Raw Foodist can eat just enough food so that people who don’t know them aren’t overtly suspicious and they can still be really (sometimes fatally) skinny.

Fortunately, for the Anorexic Raw Foodist, those who care can see right through the smoke and mirrors – it’s really not that hard.

What makes this passage so lacking in insight is its accusatory hue: yes, there are many anorexics who find ways to perpetuate their disorders through raw foodism. But few of the ones I’ve met were conscious of their behaviors. They did not “find it convenient” to do anything, and they did not intentionally erect a funhouse of smoke and mirrors. Instead, they were falling prey to old tendencies, and raw food happened to be the enabler. Gianni’s passage, while not altogether lacking in truth, misses the point: anorexic raw eaters aren’t always using raw foodism to deceive the world. Just as often they’ve unwittingly deceived themselves by refusing to recognize old demons. It takes time, encouragement, and gentle honesty for them to recognize the pattern.

Finally, I disagreed with the once again sweeping claim that “dogmatists” (black and white thinkers) can or should “lighten up” when they realize that they “don’t die if they eat some cooked (or animal) foods.” Some people who are prone to extremism may avoid animal foods for that reason, and find it personally beneficial to start eating them again. But few vegans I know—even the ones who admit to “all or nothing” tendencies—would feel any the lighter for eating animal foods again. Even if they proved to themselves that they wouldn’t die from that decision, they would still feel complicit in the deaths of other living beings. And no one wins in that scenario.

I’m not impervious to the occasional wisdom of stereotypes, and in fairness, Gianni remarks upon his own tendency to speak in broad strokes. He says, “These are only 8 of many different types of health personalities that can be involved with disordered eating or food addiction. My hope with creating this list was to make things fun by serious at the same time.” If one is to enjoy this article, one has to take Gianni at his word that he’s trying to infuse the usually somber dialog over EDs with a sense of cheekiness, humor, and, indeed, “fun.” Perhaps, given how sad ED talk can be, Gianni is doing us all a service by providing a touch of levity. And there’s definitely no harm in pointing out the ways in which some unhealthy eating patterns can become intertwined with raw foodism, veganism, or an interest in natural health; indeed, I think we should have that conversation more often!

The problem is that the self-diagnosis of EDs just doesn’t leave a lot of room for Gianni’s “fun.” This isn’t a sex quiz in Cosmo we’re talking about, or an online survey to see what your theoretical pirate name would be. Eating disorders are a serious business, and coming to terms with them is uncomfortable enough without feeling as though one is being cast into stock types. (Indeed, many men and women with eating disorders confess to not seeking out help, or not coming to terms with the issue, because they feared they’d be a “cliché”).

So I tip my hat to Gianni for drawing attention to many of the unhealthy eating patterns that abound in the raw and natural health worlds, but I have a hard time applauding him for what seems like a reductive set of categorizations. Even though Gianni is the first to admit that he’s only described some ED habits, the ones he does address are spoken of with too little nuance.

Perhaps Gianni’s own experience with disordered eating (he admits to dogmatist tendencies) has given him a sense of license when it comes to making a joke or two. But even then, one has to tread carefully, I’ve certainly made my own fair share of ED-related jokes, but those jokes were shared privately, and they were limited absolutely to my own history. I’d never presume enough to generalize about disordered eating patterns that I didn’t experience firsthand. A little humor is never a bad thing, but when it comes to EDs, compassion and respect reign supreme.

OK, lovely CR readers. Time to speak up: what do you think of Gianni’s article? Did you find it, as I did, a little glib? Or are you giving him kudos for candor and humor? I’m dying to know!

(Happy Saturday night, by the way. Nothing like some heated blog dialog to spice up your weekend.)

xo!

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    59 Comments
  1. Clearly he was writing to entertain rather than inform!

    How can a reader take his sweeping unsubstantiated claims seriously?

    What an unfortunate attempt to entertain and perhaps inspire concern/worry/fear over people’s individual life choices.

    This article pidgeon holes, lables and marginalizes people who struggle with disordered eating.

    My take: yes, many people suffer from disordered eating and disguise it under “health issues/health conciousness” but empathy and support will go much further to helping them than an article that slaps hurtful labels on sterotypes!

  2. Very interesting post. Lots to think about here.

    I really like the “Serial Detoxer” bit.

    It is true though – I read someone the other day who said she noticed her weight was increasing since she added more carbs to her diet. She automatically said “I think I’m intolerant to gluten”.

    Uh – no, not necessarily…?! Could it be simply that your adding extra calories into your diet? That your body is adjusting to the increased carbs that you’ve deprived it of (on a high protein, low-calorie diet) and will simply even out with time?

    Seriously people. Get a GRIP!

  3. i know nothing about this gianni, i didn’t read his post, i’m not familiar with his relationship with food, i don’t know his general ethics, etc. still, i have to admit that as a kind of knee-jerk reaction, i cringe a little listening to men talk authoritatively about eating disorders. call it reverse sexism or extreme sensitivity or just extremely stupid, but still, keep it in mind if you’re a man and you decide to try your hand at this particular brand of presumption.

  4. I’m so glad you reviewed this post and replied so sincerely. When I first adapted a vegan diet, my family members were slightly concerned that I was resorting to eating disorder behaviors. In the past, with my eating disordered thinking, foods were black or white, good or bad. With veganism it can be a tad similar, but with different motives. There are a plethora of foods that I do not eat anymore because I don’t agree with how they are made, or they do not make me feel my best, and I truly feel that I can nourish my body just as adequately with vegan foods.
    Even with 7 YEARS of ED recovery under my belt I’ve had to deal with nervous and concerned family members. But all I can say to them is that my mentality has completely changed. Even though there are foods I don’t eat my reasons for not eating them are completely difference than my ED days. I no longer make food choices due to what I think is going to make me fat vs. what I think will make me lose weight. The mentality behind your food choices is truly the key.
    When it comes down to it I think anyone who has experienced an ED can agree that the real monster behind it is the mentality of the disease, not the actual food behaviors themselves.
    Veganism has brought me a physical and mental peace, and I can’t really see any other way of living now that I have experienced it. And yes, I noticed some physical changes. I don’t see anything wrong with the word detox, personally. After purging dairy from my diet my digestive system changed drastically for the better and my skin completely cleared up. There is no denying it. I feel these foods were slightly toxic for MY body due to a lactose-intolerance or dairy sensitivity.
    And yes, sometimes I go on juice fasts too. It gives my digestive system a break. I do not think they are malnourishing or harmful. I think your opinion on cleanse diets is slightly close-minded. I do believe that many people who cleanse can do it poorly, but most cleanses that I have read about are no more than 2 days of fasting followed by organic vegan and gluten-free foods, with no sugar or alcohol allowed. What is wrong with that? If more Americans started eating that way think of what it would do to our health-care system.

  5. I found Gianni’s article first through your post, but read his article first, then went back and read yours. I’m not a regular reader of his material vs. others and I don’t have any form of and ED, but I did find his article a bit offensive. It seemed that he was a bit condescending towards such people and practices.

    ED’s are very serious and I didn’t care for his simple solutions to the eight behaviors he noted. While reading, I couldn’t help but think, “What would someone with an ED think about this?”

    The judgemental tone turned me off quite a bit, and aside from situations where family/friends etc, need help with a disorder, I feel like what someone decides to put in their body (vegan/raw/detox/etc…the list goes on) is frankly their decision whether anybody else thinks its correct or not.

  6. [i]A little un-PC humor is never a bad thing[/i]

    the use of “PC” in relation to labels is a pet peeve of mine, suggesting that the language we use isn’t important because it reflects and perpetuates our attitudes, but rather that the labels people ask to be identified by–the respect and whatever-degree-of-precision they request to be addressed with–are hollow, and in place for, omg, politics, which we all know is dirty and disingenuous and did i mention nanny state?

    come visit the south (hi, did i mention i’m in the south? make things clearer?) and see folks introduce a racist/sexist statement by saying they know it may not be “PC” to say x, and say it as a badge of rebellion and honesty ([i]bravery[/i], even), and you may start de-lurking on nice people’s food blogs to pick at their word choices. sneering at “PC” (which i know isn’t what you did, but suggesting that “PC” is something that’s always good to jab at comes close to the territory) is sneering at the idea that words matter. and that’s something i totally know you don’t agree with.

          • Ha! I think part of being sensitive to language means learning how to accept a metaphor or idiom for what it is. At least some idioms.

            And thanks again. Intelligent criticism makes me a much better blogger.

  7. Hmmm. Glib indeed. I feel that he could have prevented stepping on toes if he would have kept the tone but included just a few disclaimer sentences stating that these are generalizations meant to temporarily soften the subject matter in an effort to open the floor for disucssion, that not all health food eaters – of any varitety – fit into these categories, and that eating disorders are, of course, serious matters and should be considered on an individual basis.

  8. I really appreciated your response to this article. I read it first, before reading your response, and while I understand his attempt to be clever and look at the “lighter” side of life, I don’t find anything about eating disorders funny. I might be stodgy, but I can’t ever look at someone who is using a raw food diet (or any other food philosophy) as their shield for disordered eating habits and think that a clever remark or commentary is what they need to hear to seek the help they need to make changes in their lives. I also struggle with the tendency that people have to “categorize” everything. It’s rare that we fit easily into one category or another, and creating categories creates the assumption that each category can be judged (and treated even?) the same. That isn’t the case. I appreciate any increase in awareness for disordered eating, but I don’t appreciate stereotypes and clever names that almost seem to mask the seriousness of the problem.

  9. I think everyone has dissected this one pretty well. My main reactions are:
    1) There’s a place for provocative pieces drawing bits of truth to light using generalizations
    2) It goes a little far, and is somewhat disrespectful to the suffering of people with EDs, and to the diversity of reasons and goals individuals have in their food choices
    3) He throws the baby out with the bath water. Our modern world IS quite toxic, and there are ways to decrease our vulnerability to this toxicity, as well as our contributions to environmental toxicity. Also, there are very important ethical and environmental and health reasons to be highly conscious and selective in our food choices.
    4) It feels like calling anyone who is passionate about the earth a tree-hugging hippie earth faery. It’s a derogatory way to refer to someone whose passion or commitment exceeds our own. But when food patterns are based on fallacies or are destructive? Then bring on the humor, we’ll need it.

  10. Hey Gena and Gang,

    Just reading this post and the comments here. Wanted to share some thoughts 🙂

    There was – of course – no intention of downplaying eating disorders here. There also was no anger or meanness radiating from me when I wrote it. 🙂

    The intention and creation of the categories was done because many of my close friends and I have exhibited these personality types over the years when it comes to eating.

    We talk about them. We call each other out on our disordered behavior and we help each other find a balance that is needed.

    Honesty about your situation (as I’m sure you all know and strive for) is the best way to start to heal. It worked for me.

    It’s also fun to laugh at yourself a little too, that’s why I included a little tongue in cheek humor.

    No offense intended! 🙂

    Kev

    • Kev,

      Really honored you took the time to comment!

      I absolutely never thought that you intended to offend: as I said in the post, my immediate understanding of your own post was that you intended to raise awareness and help others, and I’m grateful to you for sparking that (so, clearly, are most of my readers!). My post was meant only to examine the consistency and accuracy of some of the categories and personality types you laid out, and also to talk honestly about how these conversations effect readers.

      I think it’s obvious that all of MY readers appreciated your humorous approach, even if we all had different feelings about which moments were funny, and which weren’t.

      So happy that you’ve found a positive and constructive way to overcome your own ED tendencies, and that you share your perspective with others. I will be reading!

      G

  11. I’ve followed Renegade Health in the past but I’ve been put off by too many things that Kevin Gianni has said on the blog that I stopped reading it. This would be another one to add to the list.

    • Hi Amanda

      I couldn’t agree more. I used to follow the Renegade Health blog, but as an ex (is one ever truly ex?) ED sufferer found that some of the overly directive guidance on what not to eat (i.e. nut/ seed based treats only once or twice a year??) and the video blogs listing all the foods that the Giannis no longer ate, and had cut out of their diets, rang such loud alarm bells about restrictive eating (albeit for their own personal reasons) that I stopped reading it.
      I was therefore quite surprised to read a blog entry that, while touching on a generic truth about an obsession with a healthy diet, in some cases, being a shield for an ED, was quite so flippant and seemingly detached.

  12. Fascinating post! I find that amusing, glib posts – while fun to read – are often quite insensitive and sometimes downright mean. I wasn’t raw for long (although I do eat A LOT of raw foods now…but I also eat some cooked). I only ate 100% raw for about a month, but during that time I was struck by how passionate people were about their reasons for choosing raw food. I can definitely see how some people with disordered eating could be drawn to the raw lifestyle. And I can also know how frustrating it can be for raw foodists who get painted with the “anorexic” brush.

  13. I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, I feel that slapping labels on people downplays the nuances of their unique situation. There is some truth to stereotypes, but this is far too serious an issue to risk slipping people into categories in hopes that they’ll see exactly what’s wrong and somehow know exactly what thy should do. During my eating disorder, I know I wouldn’t have appreciated being treated that way. My issues were all about self-esteem, and stamping a narrow label on my forehead would have made me feel even less important, more invisible.
    On the other hand, I appreciate a sense of humor in any situation, though I think he crosses the line into scorn and sarcasm. Humor is healing, it can keep hopes up and sometimes even shed light on a belief that has no roots in reality. Degradation only exacerbates whatever pain the ED sufferer may be experiencing.

  14. Of course my first comment got deleted. Any idea why this happens to me only on your site? Usually I copy and paste but this time I didn’t….

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful rebuttal. As someone who has seen a lot of extreme and unhealthy behaviors in the raw community, I too appreciate his pointing that out, but I have similar concerns as you do. I appreciate that you have the perspective as a nutritionist and former ED sufferer and could write with that lens. I really resent being called a “dogmatist” beacuse I am vegan. I don’t have rigid rules in many areas of my life, but I do with regards to violence to living beings. Too few care about this.

    • Thanks Bitt. I’ve grown really tired of vegans being labeled as dogmatic, rigid, or preachy simply because we’ve drawn an ethical line in the sand. It’s no different for me to avoid animal foods than it is for me to avoid cheating, stealing, dishonesty, and other things I don’t believe are right; that food is bound up in the decision makes it more complicated, maybe, but it’s not that much more complicated.

      It’s perfectly OK to talk about the fact that ED behavior and veganism can overlap or fuel each other, but it’s just as vital for people like me — who are very familiar with both of those worlds — to point out that ED behavior is not ultimately defined by the types of food being eaten, but rather by the state of mind of the person eating. And it’s important for me to point out that my ethical choice to be vegan is very separate from my dark history of restriction and deprivation.

      And I have NO idea why that happens. I try to empty out my spam folder regularly, but I don’t know where those first comments go to!

  15. Some time ago, in the comments section you wrote that you rarely overeat. I think that it would be an interesting subject to address in a future blog post, and it might help some readers who are victim to this tendency, myself included. I find that I am more likely to remedy my habits when I read about them from someone I admire (like yourself)!

    • Molly,

      This would be a very perfect example of an ED related topic that demands extreme sensitivity! A few of my readers bristled at that remark, because it made them feel guilty. So, I will certainly write a post on overeating and how/why I don’t believe I’m especially susceptible, and how I manage it in the moments when I *am* susceptible — because of course, even if it’s not my overwhelming norm, I have my moments, as we all do!

      But I’ll do my best to talk about it gently and precisely, because my readers must know and understand that I don’t in any way mean to provoke feelings of shame or guilt when I discuss my own history and proclivities.

      G

      • Gena – I too would appreciate hearing you discuss this topic as I so respect both your personal and professional insight. It’s sensitive to be sure, but your voice is always filled with compassion and we know your intention is always in our best interest. If you ruffle a few feathers, so be it…

  16. Actually, I have to say I was a bit insulted by the way he’s writing. I can agree that ED conversation tend to be sad and that bit of laugh can hep a lot, but the tone in the article just seems to… easy for me. It’s not so simple and more important – it’s not about putting people in a certain category, it can be about life and death. I feel like he’s disrespecting and and making fun of having an ED.

  17. haha on Kevin always stirring up trouble

    No in all seriousness I think he brings up good points, as do you. Everyone who has suffered from ED will probably respond differently to his article depending on where they are in their recovery. For me, I laugh because in all honestly, there have been times when I feel in some of those categories…being obsessed with trying to be healthy! On our meeting with you, you helped me realized that many health problems are all in the head. Well for me, it is true. I admit I over analyze everything, but now I am trying to be aware of that and just let it go. Live life!!

  18. I loved this post. I’ve been a follower of yours for some time now, and I’m increasingly appreciating your way of writing and dealing with topics.
    I appreciated the way you expressed your point of view this time too, although I cannot say I fully agree with it. I think Gianni is one of the most creative and innovative health ‘gurus’ out there, and that he is great in putting things in the right perspective. Too many people in the health field take their diet as a religion, with dogmas and all the rest. I have had ED and I am now passionate about the way I eat, but I find more and more that being too strict and in control of what you eat is a symptom of neurosis, rather than a way of believing in what you are doing.

    Keep up the good work
    xx from Italy

  19. Fantastic dissuasion both by Gena and those who have commented.

    While I agree that there are many type of eating disorders out there and this article does pin point some I wonder at the need to label a “type” of eating disorder. At someone who has struggled with “anorexia” for over 14 years I know that nobody fits neatly into one category or another, hence my use of the quotes around anorexia. I’ve actually found the use of labels detrimental in treatment as certain behaviors or views were attributed to my illness when in fact none of them were present. This only served to make me angry and delay any true attempts at recovery.

    I don’t know Kevin Gianni and have never read anything else of his, but I do find myself growing frustrated at his tendency to make light of these very serious illnesses. As others point out any eating disorder is life threatening and this is no laughing matter. I do however think it is good that Gianni is pointing out that eating disorders exist outside of the typical labels of anorexia or bulimia. People often think of anorexia as literally eating nothing but I’ve found through my experiences and that of others that this is rarely the case.

    It can be very difficult for people who have never suffered from an ED or lived with someone with an ED to write on them or really understand what goes on in our heads. THese articles often yield broad generalizations and continue to perpetuate stereotypes that exist.

    Any type of “diet” such as veganism or raw foodism is going to attract those with ED so they can hide behind the shield of an acceptable label, but this isn’t always the case and this article does a disservice to those lifestyles. The Green Recovery series has shown that these lifestyles can be fundamental in recovery. I have found this to be the case in my situation as I have eliminated food that I have intolerances to as a result of so many years of ED abuse. Of course it still has to be a very conscious choice not to use this lifestyle as an excuse to restrict and that goes along with taking responsibility for my recovery. This isn’t going to be the answer to recovery for everyone however and that goes back to the central point that each ED is very unique to each individual and that should be the focus rather than wasting time and energy putting labels on something that is so much more complex!

  20. I thought the article was awesome! In my past life I could have put myself in just about every one of those categories…as I read it I found myself saying ya, did that…oh man did that too.

    It wasn’t until I was able accept my thoughts as disordered and laugh at just how silly my behaviors were that I was really able to heal my relationship with food, be skinny, eat healthy to feel healthy and great without the (sometimes very hidden) weight loss motivation.

    It’s a nice relief to for us ED sufferers, recoverers, sympathizers and others to lighten up on all levels, otherwise we’re just another stereotype 🙂

  21. I thought it was funny, but you do make some good points. Since I know little of the author, I simply read it as a humorous little vent. I think that I can relate to the tone having met and spent so much time with other vegans. I tend to not like a lot of them for some of the reasons he discusses, and it really frustrates me because I WANT to like them. It’s so nice to be able to relate with other vegans on levels beyond veganism. However, when you see these sorts of behaviours time and again I think it just wears on you. That’s what I took from it, but I know nothing of the author and you do, so I think you’re the better judge. I think sometimes we all just need a little rant…it just so happens that this is a topic that is very sensitive for a lot of people. That includes me, but for some reason this didn’t hit a nerve with me. At any rate, I definitely think it served as another useful bit of inspiration for a great CR post and conversation.

  22. Hi Gena! I’ll admit I didn’t read each in their entirety (I skimmed through both your post and the article), but from my own personal experience and the research I’ve done, does it really matter what TYPE of disordered eater you are? Aren’t they basically all the same or at least very similar mental disorders that play out with different symptoms? From what I’ve learned, it’s all about being unable to deal with your feelings, wanting to be in control, and using food (either by restricting or bingeing) as a coping mechanism. Is the article suggesting there are different treatments depending on which “diet” you follow?

    PS – I’m so sorry I haven’t commented on your blog in so long. I still read when I can, but I’ve limited my blog time as much as possible so that I can spend more time with Chloe.. 🙂

  23. I should begin by saying I have no experience with ED’s. The reason I say this is because I actually agree with much of what he says. Though his tendency to be flip, his use of tone, and his broad generalizations turn me off. But when I dig down into what he’s saying, I think he speaks some truth.

    Entering the food blog world, particularly vegan and raw food blogs, I have seen a lot of “high-calorie” looking foods displayed by some of the tiniest people I’ve every seen. I suppose it could be a coincidence but I do worry a bit that some folks living a raw vegan or vegan lifestyle may be doing so as a way to control what they eat. Again, this is just a lay-person’s opinion and it’s particularly about what I “see” online. Because last Sunday I took an advanced raw class and was delighted when I walked in to see a wide range of body types in the class. Round bodies, like mine. It helped remind me that I shouldn’t make generalizations based on what I see on blogs.

    So, it all comes back to that, doesn’t it? So easy to generalize and judge. And so harmful. I’m as guilty as the next person.
    This is why I’m loving your Green Recovery series — I’m being educated.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking critique, Gena!

    • JL,

      Once again, I don’t at all disagree that it’s important to speak out disordered patterns in our community. It is important!

      But I think it’s also important not to get exasperated with people who demonstrate these behaviors, and to exercise patience and compassion with them.

      I like all of the comments on this post that suggest we aim for a humorous approach when we talk about EDs, if we can. But not when that humor turns mean-spirited, which, for example, I though the characterization of the professional dieter was.

      G

      • This is a good reminder about compassion and patience when we see people exhibiting these behaviours, Gena. A reminder that I should take to heart! I tend to jump to conclusions too often about why someone is behaving in a disordered way, and it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there is suffering there…even if it’s not the same type of suffering I can relate to through direct experience.

        • Thanks Sarah! As I said, I’m not at all impervious to feeling fed up with certain kinds of disordered patterns that I see again and again and again in our community. As I said, I sometimes roll my eyes at the word “cleanse!”

          But I also know that there’s usually quite some pain and/or feelings of desperation that accompany these patterns, and while I think we should be honest about them, I also think that we should exercise a little patience. I think back to how often friends and family must have gotten fed up with *me* when I was a disordered eater, or noted some of the cliches in my behavior, and I’m grateful that they were patient; I guess offering that patience to others, even when I feel a little exasperated, is the least I can do, right?

      • Agreed — and actually I didn’t think you were implying we shouldn’t speak out. In fact, I think you have been one of the most outspoken on this issue and have forced many of us to take a look at the messages we send out on our blogs.

        And I also agree that mean-spiritedness is never a way to inspire change. The message is easily lost in the tone.

  24. Actually, I appreciate what Gianni is saying. It doesn’t rub me the wrong way, but that’s just a personality thing for me (it takes A LOT to rub me the wrong way–I’m a peacemaker, see the good in everything kinda gal). I tink it’s very important for each and every one of us blogging and reading and commenting on food blogs to at least look this squarely in the face and understand that there are many, many facets of Vegansim, Raw Foodism, even blogging about Food (shold we coin another term here?) that are not always the healthiest behaviors and just might be a continuation of our food disorder.

    Now that being said, at this point, I’ll take my Vegan Blogging ways and keep em! They are much more preferable to my compulsive overeating ways!!!!!!!!!!! Remember, in life, nothing is black and white, only shades of grey.

    • In all candor, I’m inclined to agree with your perspective on veganism and food blogs, though I’d emphasize that the nuance (shades of grey) in a particular situation impacts whether such is a healthy vs. unhealthy endeavor. Good job challenging us to look at this squarely in the face, Wendy.

  25. Gena, thank you for sharing such a thoughtful critique. I think the most hurtful part of Gianni’s post was the insinuation that those suffering with EDs are trying to trick their friends and family – with terms like “smoke and mirrors”, his language disregards the distorted thinking and the suffering that individuals struggling with EDs face every day. For anyone who has watched a friend waste away, the belief that just giving more love will cure them is a painful pill to swallow.
    But I do think we need to more openly discuss the challenging relationships our society has with food. I guess I’m just not sure that Gianni’s post encourages open, honest and loving conversations. I know he likes to have fun and usually I’m right there along for the ride – but, this was a post that I wish he hadn’t published.

  26. Thanks so much for taking the time to deconstruct his post. I was monstrously put off by the presumptiveness of his title–what a presupposition to make about your readership! But I took the rest of it in the ‘glib’ spirit with which he seems to make most of his presentations. He’s a good writer in some ways, but he’s ever so sloppy, and that kind of prevents me from taking him too seriously. It makes me think he’s a nice, sincere guy who wants to help people but not someone on whom I’d hone my theories.

    I agree with earlier comments that the idea of someone with no ED history at all reading this article is utterly cringeworthy: and perhaps that bears out Gianni’s original (horrible) presupposition. It is surely true that any ‘health’ movement has a greater share of eating disordered folks than the general population. However, going out with that expectation could easily reinforce the tendency.

    On the subject of anorexics falling back into it through the high-volume/low calorie allure of raw foods, I wish I’d known someone like you the first couple years that I was into raw foods–to keep me honest about the whole restriction side of things.
    thanks,
    Ela

  27. In a general sense, I share many of his opinions. For example, I think there are a lot of “toxic ostriches” out there who talk out of their asses 99.9 percent of the time, “serial detoxers” who believe they’re doing good when they’re only doing harm, ignorant “professional dieters” who fall prey to any diet that goes mainstream, and “quick-fixers” who are always looking for a way to drop half their weight in a week without having to stand up. I’m not going to lie, these people annoy me. They annoy me a lot. I found some gratification in Gianni’s acknowledgment of their ridiculousness. Sometimes it’s guiltily satisfying to see innocent people being bashed for their stupidity, their “follow the herd” tendencies, their ignorance, what have you. Looking at his article that way, I think Gianna was spot-on in a very humorous way. He’s obviously a great writer, which makes it all the more fun to read because he sounds educated when he makes these statements.

    With that said, I can’t help but think in terms of the individual as well. I know people with eating disorders, and I have somewhat of a history with disordered eating myself, and it is no laughing matter. When I think about the stories I’ve heard, and the people I know, and the unbearable pain that is linked with the world of eating disorders, laughter is far from appropriate. Far is actually an understatement. But then again, look at how many jokes are made about race and religion. (And blondes! Haha!) Is it ever appropriate to put a humorous spin on a serious topic? I think it is, and I think Gianni did it with just enough stab to come off as humorous, without making himself sound like a heartless monster. True, the article lacked compassion, but it wasn’t meant to be compassionate. It was meant to be entertaining for the reader. Sometimes people need to…what’s the word? RELAX. Let’s make fun of each other once in a while.

    Obviously, I have mixed opinions. There is a fine line between making fun of people, and being hurtful. Part of me thinks life is too short to take everything so seriously, but part of me thinks life is too short to make jokes that might hurt people…and therefore make their lives even harder than they already are. We don’t want to kick people when they’re down. Overall, my honest opinion is that I don’t think Gianni set out to make fun of eating disorders when he wrote this. I think he more so wanted to target the ridiculous tendencies that modern society has in relation to food. I have so much compassion toward people affected with eating disorders, and I would be the first to jump on the anti-Giannia bandwagon if I thought this was a truly cruel article. But I don’t think it was. In the end, the bigger half of me found it humorous.

    One last thing…as humorous as I found the article, I will admit to not really liking the “anorexic raw foodist” title. I have no relation to raw foodism, but I just can’t stand when the word anorexic is thrown around lightly. He could have left that one out.

  28. I think ultimately it depends on who’s reading it. I would cringe to think a non-Ed person reading this because I think many people don’t view eating disorders as the serious, life-threatening disease they are…but for someone who had (not has) an eating disorder, it’s kind of…a relief to be able to laugh about it. I think while there’s the danger of not viewing it seriously, there’s also the danger of viewing it TOO seriously.

    In the end, I agree with you on this: “A little humor is never a bad thing, but when it comes to EDs, compassion and respect reign supreme.” I’d rather joke about ED-stereotype privately (and I totally do, guilty!) but in a public platform…hmm…

    • Ha! Agreed, Sophia. It’s very important to develop a capacity to laugh at this stuff, especially if you’ve lived through it. But I just think it’s important not to laugh too much at other people. I found the description of the “professional dieter” to be a little barbed, for example.

    • Ah this is such a good point, Sophia! It makes me rethink my comment above. I remember in my psych class in high school, when we were learning about EDs, this dude was like, “Why would someone want to starve themselves?!” I got so mad. So you are right–maybe the general public doesn’t view them seriously enough, and maybe those with EDs take the topic too seriously. It’s funny, though, when I spoke about my ED to a group of housemates, they all looked really sad, serious, and awkward. I wish they would lighten up! Haha.

  29. I feel that he has forgotten the fact that all those suffering with E.D’s do have a common trait, and that is that they are in pain. I do not see how poking fun at someone who is suffering is worth while. Nor do I see why he feels he can state in a single sentence what it is these “types of people” need in order to recover. Recovery is as diverse as the people who are suffering. People with disordered eating do need love and acceptance yes, but recovery is just so much more than that. I feel this article was just insensitive. No one would think it was funny if he listed the 8 types of obsessive compulsive disorder. Eating disorders are a mental illness, and demand respect. At the very least, poking fun at the people suffering will just drive them deeper into their habits. Not that I do not have a sense of humor, I do, just not at the expense of those who are in pain.

  30. “But if we’re all to retain our sanity, we simply have to stop fretting over each and every chemical or unwanted substance we’re exposed to, and have faith that healthy living offers us sufficient protection to enjoy our lives.”

    –That’s the first thing you wrote that I was nodding in extreme agreement with.

    And then you carried on and wrote 17 more things that I did the same with. Cringing at detox dieters was another one. Trust in thy liver is my motto 🙂

    I had not yet seen Gianni’s article and I think with things like this there are elements of great truth, and also elements that aren’t cool or hold little merit for my logic and way of thinking.

    As with anything, I try to find what’s relevant and good, take it, absorb it…and what’s less than relevant or downright offensive, I try to use the mental delete key, my own ignore-it mechanism. I apply this with everything from food “advice” I read about to things I read in books that have to do with parenting to things I read on blog that have to do with exercise to things commenters leave and say to me. Take the good, chuck the rest 🙂

    Thanks for the enlightening read and wonderful post, Gena!

    🙂

    • And I basically read Averie’s opinion on anything and just follow suit… 😉

      Just kidding! Although I did find myself nodding in agreement with you both!

    • I use my mental delete key like this too, but I’d never called it by that name. Thanks for the new vocabulary word, Averie. 🙂

  31. Honestly? I read this and think – I don’t think anything at all. It is neither witty nor factual nor valuable in any sense of the word. No true knowledge of disordered eating is communicated nor is it a beacon for support.

    (And I understand that disordered eating is different than eating disorders. However, simply because the latter may entail greater physical costs does not mean the former can be caricatured.)

    I firmly believe that an understanding of eating disorders or disordered eating can be had from the writing and speaking of all sorts of individuals – not just academics or medical specialists. in fact, ‘Wasted’ by Marya Hornbacher remains one of the most illuminating pieces of work on eating disorders (I highly recommend it to anyone).

    That said, when I read an article like this, I dismiss it out of hand: it seems to hail from someone so clearly without the commiserate sensitivity and knowledge of eating disorders that it seems insignificant on its face.

    I do see it as a wasted opportunity to educate the public, though, and thus significant in that unfortunate way.

  32. Shit, girl. You. Are. The. Poo.

    I had the *exact* same bristle of a reaction to this article, and it’s lovely to read it all laid out (thanks for taking the time to do that, seriously). I discovered Renegade Health during the Great Health Debate and have enjoyed reading his blog since then. I don’t agree with everything he says but I appreciate his transparency and like you said, I do believe that he genuinely wants to help people.

    That’s why this article caught me so off guard. Just the title had my jaw dropping – seriously? You think your entire readership is sick and disordered? What a premise! And as you so deftly illustrated, it wasn’t necessarily the content of the article that’s so off-putting, but the *tone*. For someone who seems so genuine, it felt (to me) dismissive, condescending, and even a little mean-spirited.

    Reading the comments was surprising (though I know he screens) as everybody happily self-diagnosed themselves with a mental disorder (like you said, like a Cosmo quiz or something!). Squicked me right out, and made me wonder if I was the crazy one for having the reaction I did.

    Glad to hear I wasn’t alone. So yeah, you’re all sorts of rad.

  33. Though he’s glib, his humor conveys the message well. There is a HUGE overlap between people with disordered eating and any “ism” that dictates what you can and cannot eat. Let’s be honest – people with healthy body image and no food issues generally eat well and in moderation. No extremes. Nothing “forbidden,” for ethical reasons or otherwise. Also, I feel we should acknowledge that it is a huge luxury to eat vegan or raw. Only when you are surrounded by an abundance of healthy foods can you choose to eat this way. Put anyone in a starvation situation for several days and I assure you, any devotion to veganism would disappear in favor of survival. Just my thoughts.

    • Hello Anonymous:

      Very few vegans I know–myself included–argue that starving people or people who live in dire poverty ought to be vegan. I believe that its a lifestyle choice that makes sense precisely because I *do* have a choice; I have the capacity, desire, and freedom to make eating decisions that I believe are ethical and conscious, and I hope to foster awareness in others who are also able to make a choice. My understanding of what’s ethical and what isn’t is not shaped around what I would do in extreme, survival conditions; its determined by what I know I can do within the fortunate context of my own life.

      G

        • I agree with both of these points. In my opinion, when we do have the freedom to choose how to eat, it is best to be as ethical, environmentally sound, and as healthy as possible, but with balance. Even people who have the ability to choose what diet path they want to be on might not be able to be a vegan. Our bodies are all individual and respond differently to different diets. I think that even though Gianni’s article uses stereotypes, the humor might be important. Yes, we should be sensitive when talking about ED’s (I know because I have had one) but humor might actually be helpful because in my experience, I am too rigid, but being able to open up and laugh about my neurotic behavior helps me see how ridiculous it is. I actually completely identified with the “Anorexic Raw Foodist”….I started raw foodism for a while after reading blogs, and found it to be a way of restricting my options because in the end, it was impossible for me to make my own raw meals as a high school student at the time. And also, the more we fixate on whatever diet we are on, but particularly one that requires preparation, planning, and budgeting, the less time we spend doing other things NOT related to food that are probably better for our recovery. I think this is a great discussion, Gena, and it is one of the things I love about your blog. Keep them coming.

  34. Interesting thoughts Gina.
    Kind of unrelated, but I read “Health Food Junkies” by Dr. Stephen Bratman last summer, and thought he wrote an extremely good book targeting lots of issues related to disordered eating and orthorexia.
    Have a lovely weekend.

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