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Damaging Words: Why Not All Eating Disorder Blogs Are Equal

I was not recovered when I started writing my personal eating disorders blog, The Spirit Within. In fact, I was in the midst of a serious relapse that wouldn’t end until I was forced to take almost three months sick leave from my job at the time—and this wouldn’t be my last relapse.

In light of recent decisions by several blog servers to revamp their posting policies, I’ve asked myself what are the responsibilities inherent with eating disorder blogging? Am I—and other eating disorder bloggers—responsible for the potential damage our words might have?

Searching For Answers

In June 2009, I flew to Wisconsin and was admitted to Rogers Memorial Hospital’s inpatient eating disorders unit. I lasted one day.

I knew I needed help, but I felt very alone and isolated and enmeshed in my anorexia. I didn’t know anyone with an eating disorder—or so I thought; I later learned that many people with eating disorders hide their illness—and wasn’t getting far with the psychiatrist who had been treating me for depression and anxiety.

In August 2009, I began outpatient treatment with my current eating disorders psychiatrist. He stressed the seriousness of my condition and encouraged me to consider a two-week stay in inpatient.

My weight was stabilized during that hospitalization, but my mind was not. I relapsed almost the minute after I was discharged.

I searched the Internet for answers, and discovered the world of eating disorder blogging—and pro-anorexia/pro-bulimia.

Helping Hungry M

Helping Hungry M was the first eating disorders blog I read. It was written by the husband of M, a middle-aged woman with anorexia. Her husband, who remained nameless throughout the blog, wrote about her struggles with and attempts to recover from anorexia. He also wrote about his own struggles with her illness, and in a poignant and moving post, the reasons he still loved her separate from her eating disorder.

As I read through his posts, I found myself wondering if I could reach out to others through my writing. I also had a secret wish that my husband would become more involved in my recovery, perhaps even keeping his own blog in which he wrote about the things that mattered about me, separate from my eating disorder. But that did not happen, and at some point, Hungry M’s husband stopped writing, leaving me to wonder—did she die? was she recovered? Or did he simply get bored with the whole thing?

Damaging Words and Images

The Internet is rife with pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia blogs. Some blogs promote anorexia and bulimia as acceptable lifestyles, while others offer tips to vulnerable young people, mainly girls, who are looking to lose weight and are willing to go to any length to do that. There are blogs that are filled with images of thin models and actresses, the so-called thinspiration that Tumblr and so many other servers are now shutting down.

Then there are those who write under the guise of being pro-recovery, when their very lifestyles indicate that they are still struggling with anorexia and/or bulimia. I used to follow one such blog until she began posting pictures of emaciated runners as an ideal body type and showcased her snack of raw lettuce—and nothing else.

I would encourage all of you to be very selective in what eating disorder blogs you read. If the words you read and the images you see seem to mimic your eating disorder, perhaps it is a strong indication that this blog is not for you. If the writer is posting stats such as her weight, run as fast as you can.

Am I Responsible for the Words I Write?

When I first starting blogging, I honestly didn’t think much about the impact that my words might have on anyone else. I wrote for two reasons: to make a connection with others, and to honestly portray the struggles and triumphs of a woman with anorexia.

On my personal blog, I haven’t always succeeded in avoiding damaging words and images.

There was the time I posted a picture of me with a NG feeding tube. My intent was not to portray, Hey, look at me and how sick I can get! It was simply a visual reminder to myself to not go there again. But several readers found it offensive, and I ended up pulling it down.

I’ve tried hard not to post numbers and weights and other triggering materials, but sometimes it is darn hard to write about anorexia without using numbers.

Am I responsible for the words I write?

Yes. I feel that if I write a pro-recovery blog, then I need to be cognizant of what is—and is not—pro-recovery. Otherwise, I could simply write in my journal and avoid potentially harming anyone.

Find Angela E. Gambrel on Facebook and Google+, and @angelaegambrel on Twitter.

1 thought on “Damaging Words: Why Not All Eating Disorder Blogs Are Equal”

  1. Angela, I’m so glad you wrote this. I have a blog that started out being mostly about my writing. Actually, I started the blog while taking a leave of absence from graduate school because of my “comorbid mental illness,” schizoaffective disorder. I found blogging incredibly helpful to me and people told me they liked reading it and that it helped them, too. Blogging was one of the keys to my getting back on my feet again and returning to my studies. It also gave me confidence in my ability to write. For a change, I had a voice. I was a loser who suddenly mattered.

    Enter anorexia nervosa. I didn’t admit it right away in my blog, but after a while I felt the need to be honest. As I got worse, friends dumped me, one after another. I openly admitted in my blog that I talked in writing to my blog readers because there was no one else to talk to anymore.

    I got released from my last hospitalization Feb 26 and I was angry at the hospital, my therapist, the world. I did a lot of ranting about what was wrong with the mental health system, that people with eating disorders fall between the cracks, and that you have to be young, rich, and let’s not forget female to get adequate care for ED.

    I feel that I have been censored and silenced all my life. The people at the hospital couldn’t get me to shut up about things like human rights violations. I also would get pissed when the staff told me what I was talking about was “triggering.” This went to extremes. I said in a group that anorexia was the most fatal of all mental illnesses, and apparently this fact wasn’t supposed to get leaked out. I mentioned “cancer” once, comparing how people treat us with ED’s and how people treat people with other potentially fatal diseases (people run away fast). I was immediately interrupted and told that I should not mention “cancer,” that it upset people.

    I pride myself in telling it like it is. I love how you made it clear in this article that there’s a very fine line here. I believe I have crossed the line at times, but in each instance, it’s not entirely clear. Of course I censor myself and refrain from writing stuff that I know might be promoting anorexia. But at the same time, I abhor vagueness. As a writer, I’m sure you appreciate the beauty of honesty as much as I do. It means admitting that life has its ugly side.

    I have heard “recovered” people talk to audiences at a local ED venue, and the organization forces them to be ridiculously vague. These people are human with real feelings and have been through a lot of ugliness. I have seen a lot of presentations where the recovered person read heavily censored words with an expressionless voice, like they were doing this reading but it had been stripped of all meaning and impact. The story wasn’t even theirs anymore. I was so disgusted that I never went back and decided that recovery wasn’t for me. I wouldn’t let this happen to me as a writer or as a person.

    I’ve been thinking of putting some sort of blanket disclaimer in my blog, saying that this is only my experience and my own point of view. But instead, I make a statement like that as I go along in each individual entry when necessary.

    I look forward to exploring your blog further. Thank you. You are not alone.

    Julie

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