Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Truth About Online Anorexia

So I sat down by myself tonight as Mike had his work Christmas do, and I stumbled across this documentary on BBC America. (It was an ITV programme originally but BBC America likes to mess with my mind like that.)  Called The Truth About Online Anorexia, it was presented by Fearne Cotton and followed her investigation into the world of online Pro-Ana websites.  I daren't link to any here for fear of prompting someone else to actually visit one, but rest assured they are a grim sight.

I'm sure countless other feminist bloggers have already written about this documentary as it was aired in the UK back in April, but I just feel I need to put something down about it too.  Imagine the scenario: here I am, sitting on the couch having just battled for the last two hours to get my son to initially take his food, and then to assist him in keeping it down.  I'm scoffing a rather scrummy frozen cheese pizza (I like to add sweetcorn, personally, although I do get rather strange looks when I do it in public) and I'm sipping on a caffeine-free Diet Coke (I like the taste, and I do acknowledge that this makes me odd).  Then I turn on this show about how eating is BAD BAD BAD and being thin is GOOD GOOD GOOD.

To say I was upset is an understatement.  After half an hour I looked at Owen, and I just burst in to tears.  I looked at his chubby little cheeks and his lovely fat arms, and I thought about how so much of his life is completely and utterly controlled by food.  He is at his happiest, like nearly all children with GERD, when he is not eating.  When he is eating, he's miserable.  He feels gassy, over-full, uncomfortable, nauseous, like he has heartburn, and I imagine it stings like hell when the contents of his stomach are violently projectiled out of his mouth and nose.

But we battle it, he and I.  I work like hell for three out of every four hours to make sure his food stays put.  It is a tribute to my own perseverance, grim determination and sheer bloody hard work that he is exceeding every single doctor's expectations and has grown as much as he has.  He has gone from losing weight as a newborn and dropping off the growth charts, to an astonishing 50-75% percentile placement.  And that's if you don't even account for his prematurity and knock five weeks of his age.  It's the hardest, most draining job I've ever had and I consider it a successful feed if he keeps down at least three quarters of his food.

So for me to watch this documentary and to hear about women denying themselves food to try and reach some unattainable perfection was so, so sad.  I felt many things.  I felt, initially, sorry for these women.  Then I got angry and I felt that I'd never heard of anything so fucking selfish in all my life.  You don't eat DELIBERATELY?  You starve yourself?  You are so ungrateful that there are people working hard to put food on your plate that you consider it to be disgusting to put it in your mouth?  I've never heard of anything so repulsive.  Don't you know that there are children out there who don't HAVE food to eat?  That there are children out there who have all the food they could want, but who can't or daren't eat it because of the reaction their little bodies have to it?  Don't you know that when your child can't or doesn't want to eat, it is one of the most frustrating, upsetting, guilt-ridden emotional rollercoasters a parent can go through, and they go through it every moment of every... single... day...?

This train of thought continued until the show was over, I'm sorry to say.  The idea that you would work so hard as a parent to feed and nourish your child, only for them to deliberately damage their body and make themselves ill - even to die from it - just made me sick to my stomach.  I even ate my pizza more quickly because of it.  Then, after a while, I just felt sorry for them all again.  And I thought about my own issues with food and eating, and how nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

I've put on A LOT of weight since my pregnancy.  In part it's due to a lack of exercise (I'm stuck on the couch feeding Owen so much that it's really hard to get out), partly with what I eat (see the pizza example, above), and partly the depression.  So in way, I'm damaging my own body by not giving it the healthy, nutritious stuff it really needs - is this worse?  I might be eating, but I am also sticking two fingers up at the work my parents did when I was a child to keep me healthy and growing.  I came to the conclusion that the only way to be a positive role-model to Owen as he grows up is to have a healthier relationship with food.  I need to stop using it as a crutch when I'm angry or sad, or when I feel as though I deserve a "reward".  I need to use that hour before the next feed to walk around the house, or to stick the Wii on and jump up and down.  Hell, I need to stop going to Target and buying candy just to get out of the house.

So, starting tomorrow, one week before Christmas, I'm going to eat healthily.  We already have many, many healthy items in the fridge and I think it's time to eat them.  I cannot let my depression or any other excuse rule my life.  If I want to change, the only person who can make it happen is myself.


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