Dangerously misinformed article on eating disorders posted on Muscle and Fitness website

*Trigger warning: I care a lot about the readers of this blog and I respectfully ask that you please do not read on if you are prone to be triggered around eating and health or body-related themes.*

Feministing reader Ann wrote in this week to alert us to a very disturbing article posted on Muscle and Fitness Hers website. The article is written by well-known female bodybuilder Pauline Nordin and is entitled “Defining ‘Eating Disorder’.” The subtitle of the post is “Since when did caring about what you put in your body become a bad thing?”

…Gross.

If you can’t tell already from the terrible title, the article presents a bizarre, dangerous, and ill-informed perspective on health, diet, exercise, and the psychology behind EDs. I’m not going to link to the piece because it certainly doesn’t deserve the traffic, but a brief summary and some excerpts follow, for the purpose of deconstructing and debunking this BS.

Nordin infers that people with EDs simply diet and train harder and smarter than other people — and that the people who don’t want to do this simply don’t have the “willpower” or “dedication”. She also implies that EDs are synonymous with being focused on your diet and health, a dangerously under-informed myth about not only what it means to have an eating disorder, but also what it means to live healthfully.

She starts by stringing together a bunch of weird questions that seem to conflate eating disorders with healthy eating, asking,

“What’s an eating disorder? Is it using nutrition to meet your goals? Is it to adapt nutritional habits that turn your average soft body into a lean, ripped body because you want to feel and look that way? Maybe just knowing exactly what’s in your food is an eating disorder? Or is it staying away from foods that are fattening?”

Uhm, let’s see. I know Nordin meant for these to be rhetorical, and perhaps leading? But I’m going to answer them, because I think it’s necessary to clear some things up. In order:

Eating disorders are serious and potentially life-threatening emotional and physical problems related to food, eating, and health. So, no, they are not defined as “using nutrition to meet your goals.” And nope, not defined as “adapting nutritional habits” either. Just knowing what’s in your food is also not the same thing as having an eating disorder, although sometimes they can be characterized by being so preoccupied with food and weight that you can often focus on little else. And wrong again, simply staying away from fattening foods would not qualify as having an ED in most cases.

Nordin goes on:

If you choose to be ripped instead of soft, according to some people, you are obsessed. You are starving yourself, or you have no life. It couldn’t possibly be that you choose this over feeling fat, ugly and out of shape, right? So, if this sounds like you, then yes you do have an eating disorder. And yes, you likely also have an exercise addiction. Why? Because you diet smarter and train better and harder than all those other people who claim they do not want to look and feel like you do … just because they would never have the willpower, the guts, the dedication or the killer instinct to do it.

Terrible, right? Muscle and Fitness should be ashamed of themselves for publishing such crap. Even though it’s dressed up as “health advice,” this article mirrors the tone and content of many “pro-ana” groups and websites. We’ve written about these before. They are spaces and communities where people, quite often young women, bond over their eating disorders, share “tips” for perpetuating their disorders through unhealthy ways of life, including extreme and dangerous dieting techniques, and proclaim that there’s no “need” to get better. They wrongly discuss eating disorders as a way of life instead of a disease.

The devastating and distinctly unhealthy effects of such pro-eating disorder sites — and the thinking they propagate — are recorded and fairly well-know. A study from Stanford found that pro-eating disorder websites such as pro-ana sites teach girls new ways to lose weight, which obviously feeds the illness and puts them more at risk. The Academy for Eating Disorders recommends that pro-ana sites carry warnings. Of course, the post in Muscle and Fitness Hers has no such warning. It’s irresponsible, at best.

As if this godawful article (and a subsequent post on her personal blog in which she defends the initial article from criticisms) wasn’t enough, our tipster Ann alerts us to a disturbing second round to the drama. According to Ann, a friend of hers (who is a recovering anorexic) emailed the author of the post to express her frustration and disapproval with the contents. Nordin is a professional bodybuilder with a huge fanbase; she’s perhaps best known for being founder of “The Fighter Diet.” You would expect her to handle the email professionally, right?

Well, she didn’t. Instead, she sent her a snarky response and actually posted the email on her Facebook page, which has thousands of followers. The original emailer reports that 57 of her followers called her…you guessed it…fat.

Nordin and her Facebook fans should be totally and utterly ashamed of themselves that they would call a recovering anorexic fat through the safety of an anonymous online sphere. But Muscle and Fitness bears the real brunt of the responsibility, for providing a platform to host such hateful and irresponsible ideas without regard for the accuracy of their content or the effects of their negligence. You can email them here.

H/t Ann Olsen

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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