Disordered Eating

This title is a misnomer, for my eating is incredibly orderly these days. Everything is weighed, measured, and consumed at appropriate intervals. It might interest a few of you to know exactly what my diet consists of, though I try not to write the typical pre-competition blog, filled with such monotonous bullshit as: ‘Did double cardio today, then ate 5-7 almonds! or ‘I am hungry—hungry to visualize my success on stage!’ QMR is a nutrition expert who does not give it away for free and neither will I, at least not in complete detail. Today, however, was a medium food day, so I had 170 grams of bison, 8 egg whites, 60 grams of sweet potatoes, 115 grams of basa, 140 grams of chicken, 215 grams of brussels sprouts, 100 grams of butternut squash, 55 grams of wheat bran, and one scoop of protein powder. This is not a massive amount of food, nor it is particularly small. So when people wonder—or secretly ask one of my friends—if I have an eating disorder, I can only respond with a stunned expression revealing that I think they are idiots. Because they are idiots.

Just look at a recent picture of my body to see what I mean. This 8-week-out frame is visibly muscular, relatively lean, and hard. It is the result of years of working out, targeted weight training, and clean eating, notably during the last 80 days. It looks nothing like the bulimic body of my unstable housemate in graduate school, who would cook incessantly—often with the mushrooms and flowers she found outside—and then vomit her creations noisily into the toilet, apparently hoping that I would hear her. I sure did. Her body was pale and weak, entirely covered in fur-like down. Her teeth were yellow and broken, their enamel removed by constantly bathing in bile; her hair was brittle and frizzy from malnourishment, while her stomach protruded from near starvation. When I asked why she was determined to be so thin, this was her shocking response: ‘I know I have something that every woman wants.’ I, for one, had no desire whatsoever to resemble the hideous spectacle I saw before me, despite being much larger at the time than I am now.  

As for anorexia, is there anything less attractive than a boney thin person, all knobby knees and elbows, with barely enough energy to walk? This emaciated body type is utterly at odds with all forms of bodybuilding and ‘physical culture athletes,’ a term I recently learned. I remain unable to consider myself an athlete, especially after always being the last one picked for team sports in grade school and the first one hit in the face with a dodgeball at recess. Was I the only kid to cheer inwardly when the principal issued the usual mid-January ban on Red Rover and forbade us from climbing that looming snow hill in the parking lot? What I am doing now is deliberate hard work, admittedly crazy in its own way, but nothing like the forms of mental illness that manifest themselves in relation to food described above. Yes I think about what I eat, and no I do not eat everything I want or as much of it as I want. Practicing control in relation to food does not constitute an eating disorder, though it might indeed classify me as abnormal.

Being chubby and even fat are pretty standard in our consumer culture. I realize that ‘fat oppression’ occurs, especially to the morbidly obese, and that women (and men, but I know so little about the male body I am reluctant to address it here) are continually bombarded with messages telling them to lose weight. All the same, those who strive to achieve a lean athletic body are often pathologized. My beautiful, strong, soccer-playing chiropractor was accused of having an eating disorder by her obese sisters because, unlike them, she refuses to overeat. During another conversation, this time en français, Vivacious M told me that her extended family members are beside themselves with worry about what they consider the extreme fitness regime of a young nephew who is training to become a triathlete, while ignoring the seriously poor health of a morbidly obese niece. In the end, her eating habits are more acceptable than his. Paying attention to diet is linked with narcissistic obsession, but sitting around, eating poutine, and slowly dying from clogged arteries is to be expected. It’s closer to human nature. WTF?

Now I do not think that everyone should be like me, following the same kind of workout regime and strict diet. In fact, I am quite sure they should not. QMR revealed that sometimes young women ask her to diet them, to help them get ready for ‘bikini season.’ She refuses, and works only with people preparing for bodybuilding competitions. I respect this ethical position because the degree of leanness required for these contests is not healthy, nor is the lifestyle they involve. While in many ways I am enjoying the physicality of the cutting process, I remain aware that I cannot have this body forever, and will need to gain weight following my competition (after first losing at least 10 more pounds during the coming weeks). Though I will continue to train hard and eat clean, I will have to adopt a more reasonable regime. At the same time, I must be careful not to develop an eating disorder or a bizarre relationship with food as a result of this process. I confess that my current diet is moving food closer to centre stage in my life, crowding alongside my scholarly writing and adorably under-the-weather partner. For instance, I have recently begun fantasizing about brownies; while laying in my UV coffin at the tanning salon the other day, I even drowsily imagined myself to be a moist rectangle and said aloud ‘This is what a delicious gooey brownie feels like as it is beginning to bake and grow a crispy crust.’ Not only is this sensual identification with dessert rather sad, it is hard to understand, for I am not a fan of brownies. I will take a tarte au citron over any kind of chocolately treat any day. But let’s be clear: this pathetic mirage was temporary and I am not about to stick a toothbrush down my throat, and wretch out my own guts. I do not look in the mirror and feel hatred when I see my body; I feel pride and a certain degree of amazement. I know, women are not allowed to admit such things. Please try not to judge.

I think the best explanation of anorexia that I have ever heard is by philosopher Gail Weiss, in her book Body Images: Embodiment as Intercorporeality (1999). She contends that anorexics do not have a negative or false body image that needs to be replaced by a positive, more accurate one. This stance assumes that acquiring a ‘realistic’ body image is possible. Instead, Weiss argues that anorexics have only one single body image, whereas most of us have many. We can feel fat or thin, sexy or ugly, strong or weak, depending on the context and circumstances. We move daily or even hourly between these various images, shifting our minds and inner visions accordingly. That makes sense to me, and also explains why some moderately fat people may hate working out at gyms. For in their everyday lives, at home, work, or the cinema, their bodies are perfectly acceptable. Once at the gym, however, they become fat, surrounded by a greater number of fit people than usual, as well as by mirrors and signs sending them potential messages of neglect, failure, and lack of time management skills. That might also be why I am being treated differently at my own gym these days: on one hand I am increasingly recognized as a bodybuilding competitor and I love this kind of admiration. On the other hand I am now openly laughed at, stared down, and criticized by women and men alike. Just today, an old, saggy, and unfit man I have never seen before advised me to ‘learn how to make it softer.’ Apparently he prefers the curvaceous bombshell type, and of course, as a woman who is 20 years younger, pleasing him is something I should automatically wish to do. Punching him in the fucking face is what I would indeed like to do, and I could probably get away with it, using ‘carb deprivation’ as my legal defense. Oh yeah, now I have yet another reason to head back to the gym tomorrow.

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About feministfiguregirl

I am a 51-year-old professor named Lianne McTavish who receives as much satisfaction from working out at the gym as from publishing my academic research. About eight years ago, I decided to combine my two primary identities (scholar/gym rat) to create "Feminist Figure Girl," a fictional character who both analyzes and participates in bodybuilding. I competed in my first figure show in June of 2011, and then wrote a book inspired by the process, published by SUNY Press in February 2015. In this blog I will write about and consider my ongoing research on the body, while regularly making fun of myself. I recommend that you start reading my first post from August 2010 (available on the home page), instead of backwards from the most recent one, in order to get the full FFG effect.

9 thoughts on “Disordered Eating

  1. This is an interesting post for me, as you know that my food and exercise habits changed drastically, sort of around the same time as yours started to with the advent of this project. What I find interesting is that I frequently had people ask me if I was OK – losing weight, it seems at least in this city, is very uncommon and people were concerned that I was extremely sick. It was really hard not responding that it was cancer or some other terminal disease. But my answer just had to be no, I am acutally healthier than I have been in my life. I don’t consider myself skinny now, but have had people say I have lost too much weight. I guess it is all relative.
    The food intake listed above adds up to, what, about 1000 calories not including the protein powder? (Were there any oils in cooking?) How does that compare to what you burned? You aren’t doing much cardio these days, are you? but the strength training burns a pretty good amount.

    • First of all, thanks for commenting! To answer your questions: I do not use any oils in cooking, except for Pam. I typically weight train for 30-60 minutes per day, followed by fat-burning cardio of one hour, keeping my heart rate between 123 and 128. On non-training days, I do 1.5 hours of cardio. I was doing far less cardio before, when I was focused on muscle growth. I now also work out 7 days per week, whereas previously I was working out only 5 days per week. I am starting to feel a little tired.

      • Are you calculating what you calorie balance (in v out) is for a day? I can imagine it is pretty low (negative even?). I’m curious what it might be.

      • I do not caculate anything. I simply trust and obey my diet coach. So far I have lost 18 pounds in 80 days, so the weight loss is quite slow to avoid extensive muscle loss.

  2. I know this was written over a year ago, but I think this is just some fantastic writing. The Last bit about people (other than anorexics) having multiple interpretations of their own shape is something that I think of a lot. There was a post sent to me recently about how getting fit isn’t a competition with anyone but yourself, and I think that this sentiment is accurate enough, but dealing with the culture of a gym (and its thousands of eyes) changes your perception of both competition and fitness… It’s easy to fall into a pattern of expectations that align with your gender/age group. As a non-body-type example, at my gym yesterday, I noticed every single female was wearing a pink top and black leggings. Including me. It freaked me out a bit.

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