How Do You Know If You Don’t Try?

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“How do you know if you don’t try?” is one of the most famous lines in the annals of peer pressure. To a young person, it sounds like a valid argument, and for a very good reason. It is true at all ages and in all times, that a person can’t really know about something unless they’ve done it. The subjectivity of all experience has been discussed by philosophers for centuries.

On the other hand, so has the objectivity of all experience. The point is, to grow up is to gain the ability to say, “Yeah, well maybe I don’t actually need this particular knowledge,” “I’m good, thanks,” or simply, “Pass.”

What societal and cultural nonsense has contributed to the fascination with starvation? Does the blame fall on the fashion industry, which has improved somewhat, but which traditionally employed emaciated models? Is it because of vampire movies?

An online commentator with the username “Sage” wrote:

I’m all for anti-pro-ana. I’m not really pro-ana, not for other people anyway. I want to lose and I know it’s a disease and not a lifestyle or a choice, and I think I deserve to do this to myself, but it’s horrible that other people are suffering too. I’d do anything to prevent it happening to other people.

A person known as “Lil Nymph” was in 8th grade when she discovered an online resource and started “restricting.” Now five years in, she is still restricting, but at the same time is “entirely against the ana community.” She wrote:

I think it’s ok if it was just a way for current anorexics to give each other support, but it’s not. Girls give tips, post a lot of thinspo, etc., and that’s fine for personal use, but a lot of other people stumble onto these blogs.

We mentioned the various definitions offered by DSM-5, which have their shortcomings, such as the one noted by writer Amelia Tait:

People with highly disordered eating can easily convince themselves they don’t have a problem because they don’t fit into the narrow definition of anorexia.

So, where does this artificially induced, faux anorexia fit in? It would probably not fall under the purview of Atypical Anorexia Nervosa. Is it an Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, or an Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder? This topic is both depressing and distressing but it is important for several reasons.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Parents, some professionals, and members of the general public have expressed concern over the possible negative consequences of even mentioning obesity to children and teenagers who suffer from it. There has been emphatic pushback against the practice of weighing children at school, and sending letters home. Parents are expected to speak to their children about obesity in such roundabout, non-specific language that the children might not even know what they are talking about.

In some quarters, the belief exists that any attempt to promote better eating habits, or to point out connections between such things as sedentary, screen-centered pursuits and obesity, will create crippling anxiety. In this scenario, young people react by developing eating disorders. If there is any validity to that theory, the majority of the blame can be placed at the door of people who knowingly and purposely encourage kids to become faux anorexics.

The culture takes a bad turn

The pro-ana movement is one of those bizarre societal outputs that make even the staunchest First Amendment supporters question their own principles. Online or in print, what can be done about people who spread such destructive ideas? How can it be acceptable to tell others to go kill themselves? Is this free speech, or hate crime?

How psychologically unsound does a person have to be, to devote time and energy to undermining the health of others? Unlike such comparable pursuits as selling heroin, there isn’t even a profit motive. In some places, it is against the law to knowingly infect another person with HIV. Should it be illegal to knowingly infect them with a possibly fatal eating disorder disguised as a “lifestyle”?

That is precisely where the legal process would falter. Because anorexia is not a disease that someone can be infected with by exposing them to bacteria or a virus. Nobody can catch anorexia, and nobody can cause another person to catch it. They can only expose the person to the idea of mimicking the behavior. Should this speech be made unfree and forcibly stopped? For Americans, the question is hard to answer.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “MPA,” MyProAna.com, 2015
Source: “When You’re Both Overweight and Anorexic,” Vice.com, 12/08/15
Photo credit: Tigist Sapphire on Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:

Presentations

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources