Tracey Gold’s ‘Starving Secrets’

Remember Tracey Gold from Growing Pains? A recovered anorexic, she’s now hosting a new Lifetime channel reality show: ‘Starving Secrets.’

Even this People magazine photograph portrays Gold’s anorexic body as glamorous.

The show, still in its first season, follows women with serious eating disorders, and gives them the opportunity to a enter into a treatment program. Critics of the show point out that it follows in the genre of made-for-TV movies like The Best Little Girl in the World, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, and For the Love of Nancy–which probably fueled more eating disorders than they discouraged.

I remember watching The Best Little Girl in the World in health class in 8th grade. It starred Jennifer Jason Leigh and generally made anorexia seem alluring and glamorous, if a bit frightening. It, and media like it, have been thinspiration–unintentionally functioning as eating-disorder inspiration. For girls and women struggling to find their story–to make meaning of their lives, an eating disorder can provide a macabre but compelling narrative.

On the other hand, some point out, insurance companies in the US provide such wimpy coverage to mental illnesses in general and eating disorders in particular (a 30-day per year inpatient cap, for example) that, for some people, participating in a ‘reality’ show represents a viable shot at obtaining treatment.

What’s your take? Do shows like ‘Starving Secrets’ do more harm than good? Do they really help anyone? Or is it just more sordid television?


The Victoria’s Secret “Angel” Diet

Recently, supermodel Adriana Lima talked to the UK newspaper, Telegraph, telling the paper what it takes to get ready for the Victoria’s Secret fashion show–including months of intense daily and sometimes twice-daily workouts and a gallon of water a day. The Telegraph reports:

“She sees a nutritionist, who has measured her body’s muscle mass, fat ratio and levels of water retention. He prescribes protein shakes, vitamins and supplements to keep Lima’s energy levels up during this training period. Lima drinks a gallon of water a day. For nine days before the show, she will drink only protein shakes – ‘no solids.’ The concoctions include powdered egg. Two days before the show, she will abstain from the daily gallon of water, and ‘just drink normally.’ Then, 12 hours before the show, she will stop drinking entirely. ‘No liquids at all so you dry out, sometimes you can lose up to eight pounds just from that,’ she says.”

The comments got a lot of attention, and Lima issued a statement urging “teenagers” not to follow her suit. But she also defended her practice as a form of athleticism:

” ‘I know it’s very intense but … I just have an athlete’s mind and I appreciate doing this thing [the Victoria’s Secret Show],’ she said. ‘It’s not that I do crazy diets throughout the year. I just do it for this particular thing. After this show, I become normal again.’ “

I find this whole story really, really distressing for a number of reasons.

First, I think Lima’s insistence that she “becomes normal” is pretty obviously disingenuous. Okay, maybe she is not on a liquid diet every day, but it is almost impossible to believe that disordered eating isn’t her norm. Second, Lima’s awareness that there are “teenagers out there” that are watching and listening to her, and her apparent concern that they don’t go “starving themselves” (like she does) makes it all the more frustrating that she chooses to do the work that she does–promoting a ridiculously thin and and sculpted look that’s a direct result of (professionally managed but nonetheless sick) disorder.

But actually, I think I have to applaud Lima for her honesty in revealing the extreme measures it takes to maintain that kind of look. After all, it’s NOT her fault. It’s the result of a system that values that look and won’t hire ‘real’ women for their “angels.”

Finally, I am distressed that her comments and this show garner so much attention. (Look! I’m even writing about it here!) Even leaving aside the (huge) issue of the objectification of women in fashion, and the (laughably old-fashioned?) question of modesty, I’m dismayed that such distortions of God-given humanness and beauty are still popular and prevalent as ever. From foot-binding to corsets to cosmetic surgery to fashion shows, we are constantly bombarded with messages that equate beauty and worth with a narrow, un-real ideal.

{This is one reason–among others–why Victoria’s Secret never gets any of my money.}

On Being (or wanting to be) ‘Skinny Pregnant’

Twice in the last week I’ve been asked how I went from disordered in my eating and body image to joyfully (if occasionally) consuming pie for breakfast. And while I’m never quite sure how to answer the question–because no one, simple answer could really suffice and because I’m afraid of boring everyone by going into too much detail, for example:

(“and then there was the time I thought my shorts felt tight so I cut them into shreds with fabric scissors, and I realized ‘I may have a problem,’ which reminds me of the time I tried to live entirely off of Sugar-Free Jell-O, which made me think, ‘THIS can’t be good!’ which reminds me of how I was too chicken to use REAL laxatives so I just ate a LOT of prunes…”)

See? No one wants to go there. Not even me!

But there is one thing that I can point to for sure. Wait, two things, actually:Yeah, I know. Cliche, right?

In Waiting for Birdy, Catherine Newman talks about how pregnancy and parenthood brought forth all kinds of true and applicable cliches from her, such that she considered making pitches to Hallmark. I think that is kind of true for me, too. Eating disorders can be very, very isolating. If I was going to refuse to feed myself adequately, the person I would hurt worst was myself.

When I became pregnant, that was no longer true. I’m ashamed to say that at first, with my first pregnancy, I really didn’t want to gain weight. I didn’t even realize that “skinny pregnant” was a thing.

(I do remember reading this article about pregnant New Yorkers who worked out like crazy and counted every ounce and learning of this exercise program aimed at preventing and reversing the “mummy tummy.” And I learned of the oddly titled Pregnancy Without Poundsall of which taught me that “skinny pregnant” WAS a thing.)

Anyway, I was one of those pregnant women who get nauseous from breathing air and as it turned out, it was hard for me to put on weight at all. Apparently, I take after both grandmas, whose pregnant bodies were of the basketball-under-the-shirt variety, like so:

{Hey! That basketball is my mom!}

Even though I’m pretty sure this grandma, at least, stayed skinny partly because she was doing plenty of this throughout her pregnancies:{I know smoking is bad for you and all, but she sure made it look glam, no?}

Nonetheless, I fretted about getting a belly (will it ever go away?) and confessed to my husband that I “just didn’t want to gain weight.”

“If you don’t gain weight, Aidan will die.”

Well. That was painful.

And so I did the best I could. I ate. (And managed not to puke it all up.) I got bigger. And I had a really, really beautiful baby, whom I nursed. And as I nursed him, I felt a powerfully strong sense of our connection. To feed him, I had to feed myself. I wanted him to get bigger and stronger. I had a context for seeing feeding and weight gain as unquestioned positives. From there, I felt like exploring how my eating connected me to other people–to my son and my husband, to my neighbors and to the people who grew my food.

Having my baby showed me my unmistakeable connectedness.

I think that’s the thing that’s scary about the obsession with pregnancy skinniness, which I see reinforced everywhere–on Facebook, in conversations, and (certainly) among the tabloids, which seem always to be screaming about how skinny this or that celebrity just X number of weeks after having a baby. The obsession misses the point, which is that women’s bodies are capable of making room for, carrying, and bringing forth a new life.

{Grandma was so ridiculously beautiful.}

That is–or can be–a powerful, miraculous, transforming thing. It was for me. And it had nothing to do with being (or not being) “skinny pregnant.”

For once, it had very little to do with me at all. (And that was a good thing.)

And now for some more pie.

Whose Eating Disorder Is This?

When I say ‘person with eating disorder’ do you imagine someone who looks like this?

Or someone who looks more like this:Anorexia and bulimia aren’t the only eating disorders out there. There’s also binge eating disorder–defined as having at least one episode per month of overeating with “a sense of loss of control.” And while it’s broadly assumed that this is mainly a “women’s problem,” a new study shows that men are almost as likely as women to have binge eating disorder.

Male binge eating goes unrecognized for several reasons:

One, men are less likely than women to seek treatment, largely due to a sense of shame.

Two, (partly because of one), not a lot of research has been done on eating disorders in men which means…

Three, health practitioners are less likely to screen for it in routine health checkups.

Binge eating disorder in men is associated with depression, anxiety, increased work absences and weight gain.

But there is treatment–counseling, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy, has been shown to be effective, as have certain antidepressants.

If you or a man you know may be struggling with binge eating disorder, there is help and hope. Talk to your health practitioner about your concerns. And remember, you are not alone: one in TEN men are right there with you.

God made us to eat with joy–not with fear.

{Read this story in the Daily Mail–the second half tells the story of former model Ron Saxon who struggled with–and recovered from!–binge eating disorder.}

Peace and joy to you today~


It’s Fat Talk Free Week!

So it’s Fat Talk Free Week.

What? You’ve never heard of “Fat Talk Free Week”?

Neither had I, until a little less than a year ago, when I was researching ways in which the discussions that we have around the table influence our thoughts and behaviors surrounding body size and health.

I suspected that talking about fat, calories, and weight would have a negative effect on people’s thoughts and behaviors, and I also suspected that such talk was pretty common. Certainly it was nothing unusual in my growing-up years!

Anthropologist Mimi Nichter writes in her book, Fat Talk, that ” ‘fat talk’ is a kind of social ritual among friends, a way of being, or creating solidarity.”

 “Fat talk is basically all of the seemingly innocuous things that women say on a regular basis that reinforce the thin ideal and contribute to women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies. Things such as ‘Do these jeans make me look fat?’ or ‘You look great! Did you lose weight?’ ” (Dr. Carolyn Becker)

Dr. Carolyn Becker

But “fat talk” is almost certainly a contributing factor to the enormously high rates of disordered eating and body image issues among women of all ages. (And, yes, among men, too.)

The Tri Delta Sorority, together with psychologist Dr. Carolyn Becker, developed a program to combat the the thin ideal standard of beauty that’s ubiquitous in the media (the number of folks who find this blog by googling “Tiffani Thiessen fat” is just SAD, people). And they’re combating it by focusing on the healthy ideal–which, of course, looks different for everyone.

In their words:

Reflections endeavors to help participants resist the unrealistic, ultrathin ideal standard of female beauty prevalent in today’s society.”

The program doesn’t focus on eating disorders. (Good thing, too, because learning about eating disorders can actually help people with disorders learn how to be “better” anorexics.) Instead, in interactive, peer-led small groups, participants learn to embrace a healthy ideal, become satisfied with their own bodies, decrease “fat talk” in their conversations and learn to focus less on their own and others’ appearance.

Best of all? The program is effective.

I’ve never had the chance to participate in a Reflections group, but I know from experience that banishing “fat talk” helps.

Will you join me? We can make it one week without any “fat talk,” right? (That includes self-fat talk, too! No beating yourself up in front of the mirror.)

If you’re a Christian, like me, then you believe that it is God who made you. And God’s work is very, very good–no matter what anyone else says. God made you as you are, and you are beautiful.

Please watch this video:

and join me in a week that’s fat-talk free!