Monday, January 08, 2007

No Joke



(Eating disorder cartoons from cartoonstock.com)


I visited an ophthalmologist recently, whose suite is across the hall from the office where I work part-time at a university medical center. As he tinkered with bright lights and dilating drops, he asked me if I had any areas of specialty. “I do a lot with addictions and eating disorders,” I said.

“An eating disorder—now that’s something I’d like to have.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” I replied.

“Actually, it would be kind of nice to have an eating disorder for a little while, lose 30 pounds, and then get rid of it,” he parried.

And, here, I found myself in familiar territory, defending why one shouldn’t aspire to an eating disorder, challenging the conversational levity associated with a specific diagnosis. He didn’t, for example, suggest he’d like to dabble in opiate addiction. When I talk about working with anxiety and depression, no one jokes about how appealing a stint as a depressive would be, or how nice it would be to have a panic attack now and then. Eating disorders, however, seem to have attained “class clown” status in the arena of psychiatric diagnosis. Even amongst a medical professional. . .

Why is this? Why not consider the gravity of such conditions? How did one of the most fatal psychiatric diagnoses become convenient fodder for jokes? Is it because the pain and suffering of eating disorders is largely internal and therefore unknown? Is it because eating disorders have become so popular in our current zeitgeist (especially among models and celebrities) that they’re almost considered trendy? Is it because the manifest goal of an eating disorder (to lose weight/be thin) is so noble that we’re willing to overlook the process as means to a coveted end?

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

yea eating disorders are messed up. and ive heard many people saying that they wish they had one as well. sad thing is, it really isnt something you can turn off/stop as and when you like. but that's the bit people don't get. that's the bit they will never understand- not unless they actually DO have an eating disorder. after a prolonged period of being in an ed, you'll realize it's not about the weight anymore. some days, yes, the obssession to lose weight is there. but then you start to realise it's something you can't control anymore. and you look at people who aren't starving or skinny, but are happy, and you wish you could trade your contrived, fake, forced skinniness with their happiness.

-kimmy

Treena said...

I have also had a few individual say to me that they wished they would get a eating disorder ..one knew I had a history of anorexia and the other didnt. I have always wanted to just respond.." So you want to ruin your life by starving yourself, be consumed in throwing up all the time, pass out often and basically hold onto a life by a thread"? . Because to me, this is what having a eating disoder means, and unfortunately not enough people REALLY get it. This is deadly and I dont think enough people ( even medical professionals) are able to see it in that light. One would never say " I wish I had cancer", and in my opinion, they are both life threatening and horrible experiences to go through.

Stella said...

I wonder if a huge part of this is our society's lack of connection to each other on an individual level. The 50's marked the American dream, the fences between the houses, and the need to have the perfect life on the outside. Though 50 years later, we're still filling our lives with "Stuff" and showing it off as a sign of success, peace of mind, and hapiness. Being thin has taken the stage in terms of "keeping up with the Jones'", and IS seen as the ultimate, because where consumerism is an excess, weight loss is seen as ascetic, noble, and beautiful. We love our celebrities, we think beauty, like that extra car, or bigger house, will give us accolades from our peers. Why then, would we take this disorder seriously- it's so desirable and worthy! And all the while, what we really should be worrying about is who we are, what we really want out of life, and the best way to get it, but we can't seem to stop worrying about what the nieghbors think.
Beauty always comes with a price right? High heels, waxing, shaving, and now, startving oneself. It just makes sense in the context of the world we live in -ast least to those of us who don't have an disorder, but hey, doesn't every woman have an eating disorder?

disordered girl said...

I've heard that before and probably even thought it before. Yes, losing weight and being thin is such an obsession in our culture that people think such things. Now that I have an ED it's the "just get rid of it" part of his statement that just guts me. I used to say I'd give anything to be thin. Now I'd give anything to "just get rid of" my ED.

PalmTreeChick said...

I think it's the last thing you said.

Haley-O said...

Oh, people say that all the time: "I'd love to have an eating disorder" -- I've heard it often. ED's are definitely akin to depression and anxiety. Only somehow they're glamorous.... they have to be de-glamorized already. Nicole Ritchie and Kate Bosworth sure aren't helping any....

Lymphopo said...

Cancer is also a nice quick way to lose weight. Do these people ever wish they had cancer?

PalmTreeChick said...

EXCELLENT POINT, Lymphopo.

Daran said...

Is it because the manifest goal of an eating disorder (to lose weight/be thin) is so noble that we’re willing to overlook the process as means to a coveted end?

Substitute "desirable" for "noble" and you have the correct answer, in my opinion.

Cancer is also a nice quick way to lose weight. Do these people ever wish they had cancer?

I've heard someone say that they'd like to have a wasting disease.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I have heard of people joking that they'd like to get cancer to lose weight. Or intestinal worms. Or most anything that can cause weight loss. The culture of fat stigmatization is so strong that the insensitivity of these jokes goes beyond people. I'd certainly agree that disordered eating is far more common than is generally understood. Essentially, or culture literally endorses and encourages disordered eating for people it deems in need of losing weight. This makes for a profound double standard for people our culture decides shouldn't have disordered eating.

Lucia said...

Something like 70 percent of all American women are on diets at any given moment, and another 28 percent think they should lose weight but aren't trying right now because they find it difficult. We all wish hard things were easy.

If caught talking to myself I will sometimes say, "that's the benefit of schizophrenia: always someone to talk to." An actual schizophrenic who overheard me would probably be offended, even though I don't really think there's anything good or fun about mental illness (nor do I really think I'm mentally ill). Similarly, I think a lot of people who joke about EDs don't really wish they had one, nor do they think about how they sound to someone who does have one.

Anonymous said...

And this guys is a DOCTOR? Not sure I'd want someone with such poor judgment treating me.

I also have heard people semi-jokingly wish for cancer or a wasting disease so they could lose weight. It just sickens me, really. Those people have no idea. (Not that I, either, have personal experience with a diagnosed ED, but I've known others who have had them and it's not a joking matter).

This societal obsession with thinness has become so tiresome to me that I'm almost in a backlash- I think next summer I'll take my size 10-12 butt to the beach in a bikini. I'm hoping that it starts to become tiresome to the general populace soon but I'm not holding my breath.

tinfoil hattie said...

Would the good Dr. care to have the "other" kind of eating disorder -- the one that doesn't have its own DSM # yet, but is probably most prevalent of all -- compulsive overeating?

Didn't think so.

Beth said...

It is so ignorant to wish to have an ED. Some ED's actually cause weight gain or don't help you lose weight at all. This just shows the general ignorance society has towards them.

Maybe so many people claim to "wish" to have anorexia or something for a while is due to all the media messages. No, I'm not talking about skinny models or any personal figure. Just consider tv for instance, probably a third of commercials right now are selling either a diet food, program, pill, vitamin, or exercise regimen, etc. To people with ed's, we may find this annoying and triggering, yet to the rest, they may absorb it as a message to the path of what the SHOULD be, or how they should get there. No wonder people say such things.

metamorphose said...

Thanks for this post! I had a roommate once who suffered from anorexia, and it was horrible. I wouldn't wish that on anyone, let alone myself -joking or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Really interesting post, especially from your perspective. I have found myself annoyed with jokes surrounding eating disorders such as the T-shirt overweight people where that says "I beat Anorexia." I think those of us close to this topic have no room for this type of banter...nor should we. Thanks for posting to my blog, it led me to you and I really like your perspective.
Take Care,
-mamaVISION
http://mamavision.wordpress.com

Jen said...

I just had to back track to this post to comment about something I watched last night. As I was working out in front of my TV, I flipped into an E! special on the top 100 celebrity weight loss successes (or something to that effect). Imagine my absolute horror when one of the individuals they highlighted was Christina Ricci who "lost weight" by enduring a battle with anorexia. They went on to include Paula Abdul whom we all know suffered from a 20 year plus battle with bulimia. I'm not sure what disgusted me more...the fact that they included individuals with eating disorders as weight loss success stories, or that they (as they frequently do in such programs) included the comments of TV personalities and comedians interspersed with the stories of these folks. And, yes, you guessed it, they were cracking jokes the whole time about having an ED. I'm so enraged that I'm actually planning to write a letter to the network.

neca said...

Can you recommend any good books for family dealing with someone with an eating disorder? My mom's best friend (60 year sold) was diagnosed. After getting sick, she has reached a weight where she is being checked into a clinic. As you can imagine, this is devastating for the people that love her. Not one funny thing about it.

elissa said...

I've also it prevalent among people with EDs to want a different one - one that would be more 'effective' or whatnot. I've heard binge eaters claim to be envious of bulimics, bulimics wanting to be anorexics. I've even felt that way on occasion - like "well if I'm going to have an eating disorder it might as well be one that makes me super skinny." It's ridiculous; we've been through it, we know how debilitating it is. And yet...

Gina said...

The culture of fat stigmatization is so strong that the insensitivity of these jokes goes beyond people. -- Anon 10.30a

Precisely. In a society where it is considered Better to be ANYTHING other than fat, of course people say it! I've said it, even with the full knowledge of what EDs can do to a person's body and psyche. But from someone who has an unhealthy relationship with food whose ends do not coincide with societal values (i.e. being thin), I see the "allure".

People are shamed and humiliated, ostracized for being fat. But thinness, no matter how one got that way, is praised and valued.

That's why I always laugh at ads (and people) who cite health as their main reason I should lose weight. I know damned well nobody cares if I have regular blood pressure; what matters is if I'm over an "acceptable" size.

Jones said...

the men are catching up. ha!

Laura Ivins-Hulley said...

It's because eating disorders are associated primarily with women, and women's issues are not taken seriously, because - and let's be honest here - women still aren't taken seriously. Not as a group.

Because "women's" illnesses are still "in our heads" (with the exception now of maybe breast and ovarian cancer), and it's always our fault if we suffer from them.

He can take EDs lightly because it's something that, from his perspective as a male, he thinks he has zero chance of developing. (This of course makes it doubly difficult for males who have EDs, I think, but that's a separate issue.)

Interesting blog (just happened to click onto it), though I don't agree with the overall premise in your "about me" section. It's the "all women" part. I can agree with "most." Even 99%. But not all. Perhaps it's presumptuous of me, but I consider myself an exception. Still, excepting that detail, I like the idea of your book. Good luck with it.

drstaceyny said...

Kimmy--that's right, they don't understand this part. Thanks for commenting. . .

treena--good point.

stella--; ) interesting commentary.

dg--if only it were that easy. . .

ptc--maybe. . .

haley--no, they aren't.

lymphopo--true.

daran--that's so sad to hear.

anon--agreed. Interesting point.

lucia--that's right.

anon--me either.

th--good point.

beth--you're right--hopefully, this kind of forum can provide some degree of education.

metamorphose--you're welcome.

mamavision--you're welcome. I'm glad I found you, too. I wrote abt that t-shirt once.

jen--both are equally disturbing--I wrote abt this once, too.

neca--sorry to hear abt your family friend. Though I haven't read it, I've heard that Surviving an Eating Disorder
by Siegel, Brisman et al. is good.

elissa--interesting hierarchy of e.d.'s, huh?

gina--unfortunately, that seems right.

jones--well, not necessarily something to applaud, but it is interesting to see this transcend gender a bit. . .

laura--I'm not sure I'd agree to 100% (of anything), either. I'm glad you can offer yourself as exception.

"It's because eating disorders are associated primarily with women, and women's issues are not taken seriously, because - and let's be honest here - women still aren't taken seriously. Not as a group."

I'd agree. . . .

flowerchild said...

I remember when I was in high school and one of our cheerleaders had a brain tumor and consequentally became very thin. One of the other cheerleaders shallowly complemented her and said "I wish I were you." I guess she didn't know what else to say. Or she was a complete idiot.

Yesterday, I was sharing with a colleague how I'd had the "stomach flu" over the weekend (I really did have it and actually, I hadn't thrown up involuntarily since 1998)and how unpleasant it was. She concurred and told me, "I just don't know how those girls who throw up to be thin can do it. I just can't throw up." She threw in a shiver of disgust for effect.

Both incidents just who how out of touch some people are with the sufferings of others. People who really believe they would like to have an eating disorder for a few months and are even flip about it, (ha, ha, HA!)dont' get it. They probably will never get it. And it is best just to smile, nod and move on.....

Anonymous said...

*Big sigh.*

People who don't really know me or my situation often tell me they wish they could look like me, be as thin as me, blah blah blah.

I never respond.

I really want to ask them if they want the depression, the inability to sit on hard surfaces, the insomnia, the osteoporosis, the hair loss, the mind numbing obsession that comes with being as I am... I'd be really interested as to what they had to say then.

Elie said...

If you opened a magazine, and saw a joke about schizophrenia (sp) or depression, would you find it funny? Of course not. The majority of people are intelligent enough to know that psychological disorders aren't funny, yet it's deemed acceptable to make jokes about EDs. It's the crass ignorange that gets me. Like when Now1 magazine advises Nicole Richie, Victoria Beckam et al to 'get a sandwich down them.' If these people had a brain cell between them they would surely know that advising someone with anorexia to chow down is about as useful as saying to someone suffereing from depression, 'smile-it might never happen.'

mikilita said...

interesting also is when people treat the question of an ed as a compliment. as in, I ask my very close friend if everything is okay... she doesn't eat (when I'm around anyway) and has lost enough weight to make her size 0 clothing baggy -

"Do you think you may have an eating disorder? I'm worried about you..."

she responds, "oh ya right! That's really nice of you to say though!"

... and I can't judge her too harshly, because if I'm honest with myself, I felt that same pleasure when my family worried I had anorexia. (I broke off a 2 year relationship with my boyfriend and lost my appetite for a good 3 weeks. but don't worry, it returned with a vengence!)

I have to admit also to fantasizing about being nothing but skin and bones - it seems like it would feel so pure. Even though I think women do NOT look beautiful this way, there is some nagging "hunger" inside me that wishes to experience it.

sick really.

Anonymous said...

Not really sure why im saying this but i just wanted to say how i feel about Eating Disorders as i also suffer with an Eating Disorder, the hardest thing when people sya 'i wish i had an eating disorder id be well thin!' (or something like that is for me being an average UK size of 14 is starving myself down a size then binging back up again and no one noticing, people assume that people with eating disorders are skeletons this is not in every case true

Ashley said...

I have had Anorexia for 7 years. I am currently in recovery from it and am applying to grad schools to study the subject further. I'm interested in social work on both a micro and macro level and Clinical Psychology. I have many resources that may be of assistance to you in your book, if you're interested. I was in treatment for months and met many people both inpatient, residential, and in outpatient. Like you have said, this is not just an issue that is affecting those who have DSM-IV eating disorders. This issue affects every woman, man, child, ethnicity, race, etc. Our SOCIETY is disordered.

Let me know if you need anything. I am very excited to read anything you come up with, especially your finished product.

My email is ashleydr@umich.edu

Thank you,

Ashley

emmybeans said...

When I was a teenager (I am turning the big 40 in a few weeks)I used to binge and purge. My Italian grandmother would make large meals on Sundays and holidays and I would go straight to the bathroom and throw them up. I would make myself throw up regularly at home, I took laxatives (never one of favorites). I can remember loving the feeling of being hungry and going for extended periods of time not eating...I guess I freaked my parents out because I then couldn't put food in my mouth and they force fed me. One held my arms and the other shoved food in my mouth. They don't remember this...my sister was constantly running away and on drugs at the time, my younger brother was hyperactive and I was in the middle and always the "good child". I am not sure how I got past my eating disorder or if I really did at all. I think I traded not eating/purging with eating for comfort. I know it is not right, but I do wish sometimes that I could go back to that time where food was the enemy...logically I know that I have never dealt with the issues that brought on the eating disorder and therefore still struggle with it and I know the health risks associated with bulimia. I am not one of those people that says it as a joke "I wish I had an eating disorder" I believe I never got over my eating disorder.