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Stress Fracture

Part 1 of Chapter 3 of Runaway Eating: what causes Runaway Eating, and who’s at risk?

Earlier on, we talked about stress and how we women can easily turn turn to food for comfort as a result. Why do only some actually become runaway eaters?

luisa_cerano_ladies_fashionThere are some risk factors that are especially responsible. These are as wide-ranging as the media’s emphasis on thinness as beauty, or as personal as family history, or depression. The driving forces do remain the same. While having risk factors don’t ensure that you will get the condition, it does set the stage, so to speak. It might not actually start a fire, but the tinder is built up.

First, we’ll look at the beauty factor. For years and years, women has been valued for her beauty. From Helen of Troy to Paris Hilton, those with beauty seem to have everything. They have wealth, love, adulation, jobs, and career advancement. Many of us spend lots of time and money on cosmetics, manicures, and pedicures. We flip through catalogues and women’s magazines looking for the latest styles.

The sad part is that to society, beauty equals thin/skinny/slim/slender. Most people cannot achieve the desired  weight. They were not made for it. How can a big-boned woman like Oprah ever become a waif like Nicole Richie? It brings a terrible price, this pursuit.

The writers have compiled a short timeline for this.

Camille Clifford: the ideal Gibson Girl

Camille Clifford: the ideal Gibson Girl

The early 1900s. Thin becomes in. This is perhaps when it all started. Before this time, plump, full curves were the ideal. They indicated that the well-endowed woman was well-fed and didn’t have to work.

The early 20th century ended this trend of round people. Slim, trim, and slender was desired, perhaps to differentiate from the stocky immigrants that were pouring into the States. It was a symbol of good breeding and discipline. Heaviness, the women thought, meant laziness, greediness, and lack of self-control.

Charles Dana Gibson revolutionized our perceptions with the Gibson Girl. This woman appeared tall, very slim, fit, and athletic with a small waist. Her face was gorgeous. Naturally no one looked like this, or very few people. After all, she was merely a figment of the artist’s imagination, based on what he felt the ideal woman should look like. However, women felt bad about themselves or not achieving this goal.

Just then, a physical fitness craze hit the country. Clothes started to reveal more, making women feel self-conscious about their appearance.

A typical flapper, but a modern picture from a costume shop

The flapper.

1920s: This was the age of the flappers. These girls wanted to be free to dance, play sports, and lead more active lives than their mothers and grandmothers. No more corsets, sleeves, or skirts. Well, not really. But whatever was there barely scraped the top of their calves. Women’s anxieties skyrocketed, especially since the perfect flapper’s body was small, slim, and flat chested. Fad diets were in. Self-induced vomiting was in. Laxative abuse was in.

Advertisers took the chance to take advantage of women’s insecurities about themselves to talk about weight-loss equipment, fad diets, and much much more. The message here was: “Slim down and you’ll be beautiful and happy.”

1940s to 1970s. Thin becomes a fashion statement. We know from other reading that designers prefer skinny models. Why? Because skinny works like a hanger. Clothes hang on the lady with fewer wrinkles, while people with a little shape have more wrinkles because of their curves.



Along the way, the hanger lady became an object of beauty. But no one looked like a hanger. Big problem. Instead of seeing that this ideal was not only unattainable but also quite ridiculous, women conformed it. They lusted after it, starved to fit into it. The result was despair.

Twiggy, a 95 lb, 5 feet 6 teen model, exploded onto the fashion scene during the late 1960s. Her sticklike figure made everyone feel heavy, even slim women. Fashions left little to the imagination. People believed, “You can never be too thin or too rich.” Eating disorders, as a result, suddenly abounded.



1980s. A fitness craze hit the nation. Jane Fonda turned out her famous exercise videos, urging women to “feel the burn.” The thin woman was apparently not only supposed to be hanger girl, but also have well-defined muscles, flat stomach, and a small, tight butt. Jane Fonda had all these things. Only later did people find out that she was bulimic. However, this look was impossible for most women. Those that succeeded did so only by spending hours at the gym, or starving, or purging.

1990s. Welcome to the era of the middle-aged woman who never gets old. Think about the 40-50 year olds (like Goldie Hawn or Demi Moore) who look like 20 year olds. These woman have an unusual combination of genes, along with personal trainers and plastic surgery. They have set a higher standard: looking your age is bad. You should be doing all you can to look young.


Demi Moore

I can’t deny that. It seems that every single magazine I open is filled with spreads and spreads of anti-aging commercials. It’s not just the commercials, either. Most women’s magazines include a beauty section which will inevitably include some creams and serums which will make you look younger. The product testing department also has a few products. Why? Because right now there’s a demand for such products. We want to look young. We want to look young now. We also want to continue to look young at age 50-60, just like Demi Moore. I don’t think Moore or Hawn are responsible for the problem, but the fact that the media commends them and emphasizes the fact that they still look young even at such an age makes most women feel inadequate for not being like that.

Goldie Hawn

Goldie Hawn


Runaway Eating

Started a new book . . .

vanilla-cake-ABFOOD0706-dePart 1 of chapter 1 of Runaway Eating: Not for Teenagers Only

Eating disorders is a disease widely known as a teenager problem. Maybe it’s a surprise to find out that eating disorders are not just for teenagers. Midlife women suffer from it. Right now, a disturbing trend involves these older women seeking treatment for eating disorders.

RunawayEat AmzLThe book Runaway Eating by Cynthia M. Bulik, Ph.D., and Nadine Taylor, M.S., R. D. takes a good look at this trend. They also include an 8 point plan to help conquer this kind of thinking. (I will not go through the 8 point plan because there’s a lot of books to read.) This book, is, however, designed to help the reader make informed decisions about health, and is not a medical manual by any means. And if you are suffering from an eating disorder, it’s best to seek a doctors help rather than to turn to a book alone.

The authors define Runaway Eating in the introduction as “consistent use of food or food-related behavior (such as purging or excessive exercise) to deal with unpleasant feelings, and feeling that these behaviors are out of control.” The writers think of this problem as a sort of pre-eating disorder because while the behavior doesn’t match the symptoms of a clinically-defined eating disorder like bulimia nervosa, this disordered eating is marked by a very unhealthy relationship with food.

Often, this behavior is the result of using food to run away from problems.

3533308065_ddc7e89da2Runaway eating runs rampant through society. However, using food as a solution for your problems is no solution at all, as women find out.

Nadine Taylor, a registered dietitian and coauthor of this book, suffered from a mild form of an eating disorder. She was bulimic, yet conquered it.

Runaway eaters are people who otherwise appear to be normal and in control of their lives, yet who have unhealthy relationships with food or their bodies that could interfere with personal relationships, threaten their quality of life, and set them up for future health problems.

By using food to run away from our problems, we find that our eating habits run away with us.

Go on any Xanga blogring or Facebook group devoted to people with eating disorders. You’ll see that they’re populated with young women and teenage girls as young as eleven. You don’t see a whole lot of people older than 30. We’ve heard of the Princess Diana’s bulimic tendencies, and all the young actresses who starve themselves.

However, the people over 30 with this problem are growing. They consist of women in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and even older! There’s a dramatic increase in women seeking out treatment. It could be because of the growing availability of such programs, and the decrease in the shame of having an eating disorder. Hard statistics are hard to get, because most women don’t seek help until their troubles become unbearable.

diet pills

diet pills

A full-blown eating disorder develops gradually. It doesn’t suddenly appear. Eating disorders range from mild to severe. Most women have a mild form of disordered eating.

Many with eating problems had eating disorders that they never shed when they were young. According to a review, half of those with anorexia and at least one third of those with bulimia carry their problems into early and middle adulthood. However, many women are developing an eating disorder for the first time in their lives. Why?

Maybe it’s because today’s typical midlife woman is more concerned about her appearance. She works outside to home, and worries about being passed over by younger people for jobs, power, attention, and raises. She dislikes being seen as an old grandmother, and may have a fear of aging. Due to changes caused by menopause, her waistline may increase. She’s more likely to seek help for depression.

The most important factor, though, is the stressful life that she leads.

Next up: the many stressful situations a midlife woman faces.

Reaching the Unattainable

Chapter 8, Part I

Now we come to one of the biggest chapters in the book Looks. This chapter is about how the media messages shape our thoughts and feelings about physical attractiveness.

We’re exposed to so much media nowadays. Magazine titles,  books, websites, and TV are all saturated with pictures of the physically attractive. Everyone’s beautiful in the world of media, it seems.

Does this influence our expectations and self-respect? This phenomenon has been studied for years and years. 

ariel-fish-friendsResearchers found the most body-image related messages in videos like Cinderella and The Little Mermaid. However, all ages get information about the world from TV. IF there’s one rule governing media images, it’s that sex sells. 

Advertising knows this. They’re all aware that sexual images are important messages. Others are concerned that these images place inappropriate pressure on us to focus on our appearances. Teen People magazine found that 27% of girls felt pressured to have a perfect body. Whatever that means. Older women, who had formerly felt guilty about having a dirty house, were now afraid of being old or unattractive.

Other research suggests that such advertising can affect women’s body image, which in turn can lead to unhealthy behavior.

Superman: Bulging out from Everywhere

Superman: Bulging out from Everywhere

Advertising also promotes and idealizes the body builder image. This is leading to some very insecure men and boys. A study by Dr. Harrison Pope of McLean suggests that this pressure is felt early in childhood. There’s the increasing muscularity of action figures that boys play with. This can be compared to Barbie dolls promoting an unrealistically thin body image for young girls. You’ll noticed that Superman is muscled more than any person should be muscled. He’s more muscled than the guy who goes to the gym once every couple of days. He’s more muscled than, well, almost anyone. He’s unnecessarily muscled. Noticed that he’s bulging in places where no one knew they had muscles. 

He looks like he’s been drinking a cup of steroids after every meal.

Various media reports to the state that eating disorder cases involving boys are growing. However, boys are usually unwilling to acknowledge a condition that is associated with females. My friend Henry that I mentioned previously was anorexic.

Sex sells. Britney Spears

Sex sells. Britney Spears

However, most media stressing thinness are directed at women. Women see 400-600 commercials per day. 250,000 commercial messages as well… but only 9% are a direct statement about beauty. The messages are more implicit in nature rather than explicit. Half of the ads in teen girl magazines like Seventeen and 56% of TV commercials aimed at females used beauty as a product appeal. This may give girls and women reason to be self-conscious, and even equates physical appeal as measure of worth.

A photograph of the beautiful Evelyn Nesbit

A photograph of the beautiful Evelyn Nesbit

In the late 1890s, publishers started using pictures of beautiful women to sell magazines. It began with illustrations, Take Charles Dana Gibson’s 1905 portraits of the lovely Evelyn Nesbit. She was a 16 year old married to one of the richest men in the world. Sadly, she was destined for heartbreak and poverty. During this time, though, she was called the most beautiful woman in the world. 


Another picture of Nesbit

I read her wikipedia entry. She was involved in the murder of an ex lover by her first husband. Earlier on, she found work as an artists’ model. Later on, she became much in demand because she was seductively beautiful, with red hair and a slender but shapely figure. Her first lover, the one who got murdered, was Stanford White. He was an acclaimed architect and notorious womanizer, and at the time he was 47 to her 16. 


A typical runway model

Color photography arrived in the 1930s. Ordinary could not be used for this. There were some issues with cramming a 3D image into a 2D space. Because it omits the impression of depth, it adds the illusion of increased width. Solution? Choose a thinner model. She’s look average. However, thinness became the standard, not only because of the photography issues. Clothes look better on thinner people. So models became thinner and thinner and thinner. The so-called supermodel is slimmer than 94% of women in her age group! 

Two-thirds of girls in one study said that magazine models influenced their idea of a perfect body shape.

Why do advertisers present such unrealistically thin women to advertise products?

Some believe that advertisers use thin models to create an unattainable goal. Trying to realize the impossible drives our consumption of that product. “The media markets desire,” says Dr. Paul Hamburg, a psychiatrist.

lettuceWhether or not that is true, it’s found that the diet industry generates 74 billion – 50 billion DOLLARS a year. Women compare their bodies to those around them. a 1984 poll by Glamour found that three-fourths of those surveyed thought they were too fat. This brings to mind my friend who always wants to lose weight, even though she is really skinny. I’m a 4 foot 8 girl, and naturally I’m very very skinny. (It goes with my frame.) She told me once that she wanted to be as skinny as I was. I was disturbed.

iStock_apple tape measureCindy Maynard, a registered dietitian and researcher, says that this dissatisfaction occurs so much that it’s almost considered normal. She goes on to say that the most vulnerable people are teenagers, since they are at the age when they’re developing their self-confidence and self-perception. At that age there’s a lot of pressure to fit in.

Sadly, one of the ways to fit in is to have the perfect body.