Athletic Bulimia and Asshole Slogans

by Bill Brenner on September 16, 2013

As someone who has struggled with both compulsive behavior and binge eating, a blog post from Pilates instructor, movement therapist and martial artist Kevin Moore called “The 6 Most Shockingly Irresponsible ‘Fitspiration’ Photos” strikes a big chord with me.

Moore takes aim at the advertisers who put out photos of rail-thin men and women with six-pack abs with messages suggesting you’re inferior, even pathetic, unless you find a way to get ripped. Number three especially resonates with me. It’s a saying I’ve seen a lot on places like Facebook:

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I won’t say this one offends me. But as someone with OCD, a condition where obsessive behavior is a form of slavery, I find it spectacularly stupid. Especially the part about people being lazy if they are not of this “dedicated” mindset.

The saying describes the dedicated as those who spend hours upon hours in the gym, pushing their bodies to the outer limits until they reach physical perfection. Take it from someone who knows what it’s like to be obsessed with both exercise and the more obviously self-destructive behaviors like binge eating: Being that dedicated is not always a good thing.

I have a lot of friends who are very athletic and I’m inspired by them. Some have lost a lot of weight that caused them a variety of health problems. Getting in shape wasn’t easy for them, but they got it done.

But when you start to feel subhuman because you only exercised an hour instead of two, or you only lost two pounds in a week instead of five, you’ve blown past the parameters of healthy.

The biggest reason I find this slogan stupid, though, is that I know from experience how obsessive exercise is used to mask ongoing bad behavior in the eating department:

  • In my late teens, I got the bright idea that I could party and drink all I wanted on the weekends with no danger of weight gain if I starved myself during the week, often living on one cheese sandwich a day.
  • My senior year in high school I wanted to drop a lot of weight fast. So for two weeks straight, I ate nothing but raisin bran from a mug two times a day and nothing else. I also ran laps around the basement for two hours a day.
  • In my late 20s, after years of vicious binge eating sent my weight to 280, I lost more than a hundred pounds through some healthy means and some fairly stupid tactics, like fasting for half of Tuesday and most of Wednesday. On Wednesdays, I would also triple my workout time on the elliptical cross-training machine at the gym. I did all this so I would be happy with the number on the scale come Thursday morning, my weekly weigh-in time. Thursday through Saturday, I would eat like a pig, then severely pull back on the eating by Sunday. Call it the 3-4 program (binge three days, starve four days, repeat).
  • In my early to mid-30s, some of my most vicious binge eating happened. For a while, though, I kept the weight down by walking 3.5 miles every day, no matter the weather. That worked great for a couple years, but then the dam broke and I binged my way to a 65-pound weight gain.

I’ve heard this kind of behavior described as athletic bulimia. I found it easy as hell to become dedicated to athletic bulimia. But health had nothing to do with it. My obsessions were all about body image.

And slogans like the one above only made the obsession worse, because it was always a reminder that my body was not perfect.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Lynn September 16, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Thanks for posting–this is timely. A friend on Facebook (really she is the wife of a friend; I know him much better than I know her) has suddenly become fond of posting these memes (I think she’s selling a product, which might have something to do with it). My own scary history with binging on both food and exercise has caused some ugly feelings for me when I see these memes in my feed. Your post really put what I’ve been thinking into words. Thank you.

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