The XX Factor

A Nation of Eating Disorders

Leave it to Americans, a people entranced by extremes, to turn a straight-up mental illness like anorexia into the mental framework by which we approach serious but boringly complicated issues, like obesity and related health problems in America. Michelle Obama can go on TV all she wants to talk about ” food deserts ” and encourage physical fitness, and responsible doctors can repeat the tedious phrase “lifestyle change” until they’re blue in the face, but we as a nation do not care. Far easier to declare calories the enemy and wage a scorched-earth campaign on them, while of course being unable to live up to our own insane standards.

Example No. 1: Clients From Hell is a blog on which anonymous designers express frustration with their clients. In a recent entry , a designer working on bottles of mineral water reports that the client argued, “Well I think 0 calories still sounds like too much. The target group should drink it cold so it has negative calories because the body has to heat the water.” Sadly, I can imagine there are many desperate people willing to believe drinking lots of very cold water will help them lose weight.

Example No. 2: The mere existence of “The Biggest Loser, ” a show that requires contestants to work out five or six hours a day, punishes you if you don’t lose huge amounts of weight, and gives out awards to people for losing weight at unbelievable speeds, including 34 pounds in one week . For comparison, remember that the Mayo Clinic suggests that you lose 1-2 pounds a week when you make the move to healthier eating and exercising.

Example No. 3: That MeMe Roth gets to go on television on present herself as an “expert” on obesity. No one wants to diagnose a person from afar, but Roth-who is the head of one of those one-person-seeming organizations, the National Action Against Obesity-has a disturbingly unhealthy attitude about food. In an interview she did with the Guardian , she compared eating food to being raped, went out of her way to avoid having to eat a meal with the interviewer, and confessed that she goes out of her way to avoid eating all day a great deal of the time, though she tried to play it off like it was just because food is too much of a hassle.

I could go on, pointing to the ever-more-fragile bodies of fashion models, for instance. But for whatever reason, the cultural response to the constant cries about the obesity epidemic is to admire the anorexic framework as some sort of moral ideal. Or no, not for “whatever” reason. There’s a lot of money to be made in encouraging people to buy into programs to starve themselves, and then to sell them the calorie-dense food they want to binge on like the starved human beings that they are.

Photograph of woman by Photodisc/Getty Images.