Archive for the ‘deprivation’ Category


August 24, 2012

Our new issue of GQ magazine arrived today. The magazine comes in my fiancée’s name, however we both enjoy the subscription. While I generally skip over the articles about sports and cars, I do enjoy the monthly glimpse into the male universe. What are they being told to wear, read, eat, and listen to? Why are there 20 variations of the same brown loafer in my front closet? The answers are in this magazine. Plus the ads are much more arousing and don’t illicit the same self-loathing as those in women’s magazines. Read: gorgeous men, often in states of undress. But I digress. When I picked up the new issue, I immediately noticed the coverline: “SPECIAL REPORT: WHY MEN ARE BECOMING ANOREXICS”. While there have been several reports indicating that the number of men with eating disorders has been on the rise, I was surprised to see this article in a major men’s magazine. How big is this issue?


In the last few years I have observed some subtle changes in the behaviour of men in general towards food. It seems more men are drinking diet soft drinks. I hear more men ordering “skinny” drinks at Starbucks (hold the whip!) or putting artificial sweeteners in their drinks. A lot of my male friends choose salad instead of fries as their side dish. At the last wedding attended, my fiancée and I were seated at a table with four male firefighters. These men were young, thin and appeared to be in good shape. Yet for some reason all four of them were on the low-carb “Southbeach Diet”. I watched with fascination as they removed the single crouton from the soup course, refused the pasta salad, and carefully removed the layer of breading from the fish. I decided not to mention that the 12 vodka sodas they each downed contained carbohydrates. I figured they would throw them up imminently. At another dinner I attended, a male guest questioned why both potatoes and rice were served: “Who serves 2 carbs??” In a female, this behaviour would likely not have even raised an eyebrow. In these cases I found it bizarre and off-putting. Yet I wouldn’t have suspected any of these men to have an eating disorder until I read this article.


As a woman recovering from an eating disorder I know that the triggers for anorexia and bulimia are complicated. However it has been shown that the pressures placed on women to conform to the media and societal ideal of perfection can certainly be a contributing factor. There was a time when this was a concern of women almost exclusively. In The Beauty Myth first published in 1990 Naomi Wolf writes of women’s magazines:

“Since self-hatred artificially inflates the demand and the price, the overall message to women from their magazines must remain…negative not positive. Hence the hectoring tone that no other magazines use to address adults with money in their pockets: do’s and dont’s that scold, insinuate, and condescend. The same tone in a men’s magazine-do invest in tax-free bonds; don’t vote Republican-is unthinkable.”


“Unfortunately, the beauty backlash is spread and reinforced by the cycles of self-hatred provoked in women by the advertisements, photo features, and beauty copy in the glossies. These make up the beauty index, which women scan as anxiously as men scan stock reports.”

20 years later, the content of men’s magazines very closely imitates that of most women’s publications. Magazines such as GQ, Details, Maxim and Nylon Man have numerous sartorial recommendations for the stylish modern man, reinforced by photo spreads of young, fit male models. Articles detail what’s new in the worlds of technology, music, art and books, and ensure men feel sufficiently mediocre if these prizes are not acquired. Advertisements convey the quintessential male specimen, lean men in slim-cut clothing or topless displaying bulging pectoral, abdominal, and bicep muscles. Most months feature diet and fitness advice to help men look more like the sculpted, photoshopped gods gracing the glossy pages. If looking at an Armani underwear ad featuring David Beckham is the male equivalent of women having to look at a Victoria’s Secret ad featuring Giselle Bundchen then I have no problem grasping the concept of male eating disorders.


The article in GQ magazine reports some surprising statistics. The author, Nathaniel Penn, reports that 20% of anorexics are men, or to put it in perspective for those that aren’t great at math 1 in 5. This is up from 5% (1 in 20) only 10 years ago, and the number is increasing. It appears that men develop eating disorders for the same reasons as women. So why has there been such an increase in the number of cases? A person can be predisposed to developing an eating disorder but never actually develop the disease because they never experience a trigger. Is it simply that, as discussed above, western culture has evolved to a point where men are facing many of the same societal pressures that women have faced for decade? This is likely only a part of it.


An article in Details magazine published November 2011 titled “America’s New Male Body Obsession” showcased 40 images that changed the way men viewed their bodies. These images are meant to illustrate how the male ideal has changed over the last several years as well as how much more focused men have become on their physiques. Included are: Mark Wahlberg’s notorious Calvin Klein ad, Brad Pitt’s very toned body in Fight Club, Mark Jacob’s remarkable weight loss, Daniel Craig, the author of The Ultimate New York Diet, a bottle of Michelob Light beer, a picture of body wax, etc. Looking at People Magazine’s Sexiest Men list, essentially all of the men topping the list had a lean, athletic physique and are very well groomed: Ryan Gosling, Justin Theroux, Chris Evans, and the winner Bradley Cooper to name a few. Topping the music charts are songs by Fun, Maroon 5, Neon Trees and Owl City, indie and alternative musicians who insist on looking like starving artists no matter how successful they get, in skintight size 27 jeans and American Apparel deep V’s. The media and entertainment industries are screaming to men that 0% body fat and a 6-pack are essential for health and happiness. And apparently they are listening.


In a March 24th 2012 article on Michael Addis, a professor of psychology at Clark University noted “male college students in his classes have changed and adapted to shifting cultural norms. In recent years, more of them spend time in the gym, focus on their appearance and monitor body mass.” He says “As women gain more financial power in society, men are expected to bring more to the table…In addition to being financially successful, they need to be well-groomed, in good shape, emotionally skilled in relationships and the emphasis on looking good is just part of the bigger package…” So a threat to male masculinity is motivating men to adopt behaviors traditionally attributed to women such as dieting and excessive exercise? Not according to some psychologists who believe men are actually trying to look more masculine by developing an obsession with muscle definition and fitness.


Clearly the reasons men develop eating disorders can be multifold and will be different for each person. Unfortunately, in males the disease often goes undiagnosed, at least until the patient is very ill, because doctors often won’t suspect anorexia in a male patient. Also, men are less likely to seek help due to the stigma of the disease, and the belief that it is primarily a female disease. As a result men on average will suffer with the disease longer than females, an average of 8 years. Many treatment facilities don’t admit male patients. These factors combined can be deadly, since according to the article in GQ as well as several other sources, the mortality rate of anorexia is up to 10%.


Most women know what it’s like to struggle with our body image. Therefore we may be in an opportune position to recognize if a man in our life is struggling with some of the same issues. It may be easier for him to talk to someone who can be empathetic rather than his male friends who he may feel aren’t experiencing the same pressures and insecurities. And the next time you find yourself worrying about what a man thinks of you, remember, he’s probably worrying about the same thing. So give yourself a break and give him one too. Nobody’s perfect.



I’ll have the vegan burger, hold the gluten. Oh, and no carbs.

April 19, 2012

It is hockey playoff season which, depending on how my team fares, will likely mean more dining out while watching them squash the competition. While sports bars and chain restaurant lounges with big screen TVs aren’t exactly fine dining establishments, I am still often overwhelmed by the number of options on their menus. Just yesterday a group of 4 of us went to a neighborhood establishment to watch the game. No one had eaten, and we were all famished. Being the responsible adults that we are (and not college frat boys), we decided to forgo the usual pub fare of chicken wings and nachos in favor of ‘real meals’. That being said, after several minutes spent perusing the menu, all 4 of us ordered burgers and fries.

Dining out for many is a treat, a chance to indulge. But for many of us, it has become commonplace. We go to restaurants when we don’t want to cook, when we want to have foods we can’t make at home, to socialize with friends, for special occasions or sometimes ‘just because’. Eating out has increased dramatically. In 1970, people spent 25% of their food budget on foods prepared outside the home. Today that number is almost 50%. As people eat more and more foods from restaurants, fast food establishments and even grocery store delis, it has become increasingly important to them as consumers that the food they purchase be wholesome and healthy. There has been tremendous pressure placed on the fast food and restaurant industry to improve the standards of their ingredients and cooking techniques and to offer people choices more compliant with their healthier lifestyle choices. Similarly, in recent years certain diets and lifestyles have become commonplace, such as vegetarianism/veganism, low carbohydrate and gluten-free and there has been a big push for restaurants to comply. Books such as the Skinny Bitch series advocating a vegan diet and several other diet plans, websites and celebrities demonizing carbohydrates and gluten have driven the demand for new and specialized restaurants, putting pressure on existing ones to change their focus and broaden their scope.

But has it gone too far? It’s almost gotten to the point where one can barely decide on an entrée at a restaurant without feeling menu guilt. You feel like the artery clogging steak, steak, but the chicken has that little “healthy choice label” beside it. How can ignore your health?? And for every dish that is delicious just as it is, there is a healthy adaptation that can (i.e.should) be made that will impair the taste but somehow benefit you. Any sandwich on the menu can be made with a gluten free bun. (Because gluten is the devil) Or you can get no bun at all, and they will just bring the patty wrapped in lettuce! (Because carbs are the devil) Fries can be substituted for a salad with any sandwich. You can get vegan cheese on your nachos instead of regular cheese. The waitress can just walk your meal in front of you so you can smell it without actually eating any of it, thus saving you the unnecessary calories.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize people have intolerances/preferences/allergies. I think it’s great that restaurants can work around them. But when I order a burger, I don’t want the waitress to ask me if I want the gluten free bun, and if I want a salad with that. No, b@#*h! I want a regular bun, and bring me my damn fries. Extra ketchup.

Have You Met Your Mark?

April 14, 2012


Today I am having a fat day. I am bloated and puffy. I have PMS. I have a pimple. I am overly reactive and emotional. When I looked in the mirror this morning, I was all stomach and thighs, and my arms jiggled like Jell-O in my sleeveless shirt. I tried to pull on my most form-fitting jeans, but it felt like the waistband was pushing against my belly causing flesh to form a roll over the top so I opted instead for shorts with an elastic waist. I went for a walk in the sun to clear my head. I have had these thoughts before. At one time I would have let them consume me, setting the tone for the entire day and resulting in self-destructive rituals. Today I have finally found the will to put them in perspective and push them out of my mind. I am no longer a prisoner to my eating disorder.

Many women I know have “fat days”. Days when body image is lower than usual, and you feel like you are a giant in a sea of pixies. Such feelings can be brought on by any number of things; Emotional issues, hormones, guilt from overindulging in food, etc. Whatever the case, these thoughts can significantly affect a woman’s mindset and negatively affect her day to day life. Some women avoid social interactions, romantic situations, or even work when they feel they are less than attractive. The sad part is, in most cases the problem is purely psychological. A woman may feel extremely different physically from one day to the next when in fact she has not changed at all. The only difference is in her perspective. If there are any physical changes, they are usually slight, and have to do with things like salt or water retention. A person can gain or lose a few pounds in 24 hours simply due to water gain or loss.

Many women I know have certain articles of clothing that they consider markers of fat gain and loss. A common example most people are familiar with is their “skinny jeans”. If a woman can fit into her skinny jeans then she is at her own  ideal weight. If she cannot, she has a goal: to lose enough weight to fit into the skinny jeans. Conversely, a lot of women have “fat pants”. When a woman feels she has gained weight, has eaten too much, or in general when self-confidence is low, the fat pants come out.

Right now, I don’t know my exact weight. At one point in my life, I could have told you my weight to the decimal place on any given day. When I was a teenager and I first recovered from my eating disorder, I stopped weighing myself entirely. I knew that if I started to focus on numbers on a scale again, it would be difficult for me to stop. At a vintage sale one day in university I bought several items of clothing. I tried nothing on because there were no change rooms. One of the pieces was a pair of shorts, which I learned when I got home was a child’s or youth size. For some unknown reason I did not get rid of these. When I had a relapse of my eating disorder a few years ago and lost a significant amount of weight, I had no scale and therefore did not start weighing myself right away. This was one reason I was able to remain in denial about my eating disorder. But at one point, I found and put on this pair of children’s shorts and discovered that they almost fit me. From that point on, these shorts became my marker for weight loss. Eventually they fit me perfectly, and at one point even became too loose. No one besides myself has ever seen these shorts on me. I have never worn them outside of my bedroom. It wasn’t until I went to counseling that I found out this was a common practice for women with eating disorders, to use clothing items as markers. I guess this is an extreme and more destructive form of the ‘skinny jeans’ idea. I have long since parted with the shorts and the desire to be the size of a child. But I still find myself averse to clothing that is of a rigid material or too tight in the waist as I know I will constantly be gauging whether it was tighter or looser the last time I wore it. I work on myself every day, but I know it will probably be a lifelong battle. My plan of assault is to try to be open and honest and ask for help if I need it. I have found it is a lot easier to stay healthy when you can admit you aren’t perfect. I am having a fat day. But I feel better already, and tomorrow will be better still.

I fit into children's shorts at this point in my life. I thought I was fat.


April 10, 2012

Today, I jumped on the bandwagon and tried a Clif bar. For those of you who have never heard of these, where have you been?? These nutrition bars seem to have gathered some type of cult following. I felt I should know what I have been missing. Not much, as it turns out. I sampled the Banana Nut Bread flavor. It tasted like a glorified trail mix bar and made me wish I had spent my $3 (yup, that’s right, $3) on some real banana bread. Go into any grocery store, pharmacy or health food store and there is an entire section devoted to nutrition and energy products. There are protein bars, Atkins bars, Zone diet bars, Slim Fast bars, Recovery bars etc. Some are designed to replace entire meals, while some are designed to be snacks, or to provide a boost pre-workout or help replenish energy post-workout. The calorie content and distribution (carbohydrate/fat/protein) also ranges depending on the type of bar and its intended use.

These products are not new to the market, but the number of choices available and the sales of these products are increasing. According to Symphony IRI, there was a 16.3% increase in dollar sales for nutritional bars compared to the last year for the year ending January 22 2012. (Source: Candy Industry Retail Confectioner). It seems people everywhere are crunching away on these bars. There are several probable reasons for this. People today tend to be more concerned about their health. When looking for snacks, people are going to be more inclined to purchase something they feel is ‘healthy’ as opposed to ‘junk food’. Because of the marketing of these products and product placement in health food stores and health isles, these bars are assumed to be healthy by most people. Many of them are marketed for use as meal replacements, which can satisfy a dual purpose. For those people looking to lose weight, they may appear to offer a simple approach by offering a pre-packaged, low-calorie substitute for meals requiring little to no pre-planning.  I think we all remember the Slim Fast shake diets. “A shake for breakfast, another for lunch, and a sensible dinner”.  In addition, they are great for people on the go. They are portable, can be eaten anywhere, and are relatively mess-free.

So, what’s the problem? I recall a comedy act I once watched on TV where the comic joked that he had been trying to lose weight by eating meal replacement bars, but had given up and switched to Mars candy bars instead when he realized they were lower in calories and tasted much better. Of course the punchline was the absurdity that anyone would deem it appropriate to replace a meal with a chocolate bar. My question is, is a Caramel Nut Chocolate flavor Supreme Protein bar sweetened with maltitol, polydextrose and sucralose really that much better for you? Furthermore, are we really so busy nowadays that we can’t sit at a table, use a fork and a knife, and eat a proper lunch? It seems that we live in such a ‘go go go’ world that no one can take even a minute out of their day to enjoy something as simple as say, a bowl of soup. We can’t be bothered to call each other, we have to text. We can’t watch a show when it’s on, we PVR it and watch it later because god forbid we have to waste a spare moment watching a commercial. There are drive through coffee shops, banks and even pharmacies because we can’t even get out of our cars to run a simple errand. And no way can we interrupt our day for a meal. Even fast food isn’t fast enough anymore. We will eat a tasteless nutrition bar, or drink a smoothie for energy thank you very much. I decided to explore the nutrition content of a few of the most popular nutrition bars, plus this month’s Jugo Juice smoothie of the month, which I noticed today as I got off the subway is “Chocolate Peanut Butter”. This is posted directly beside their sign with the slogan “Healthy Fruit Smoothies” . Cliff Bar: Average 240 calories, 3.5g fat (0g saturated fat), 44g carbohydrate, 5g fibre, 9g protein. Jugo Juice Peanut Butter and Chocolate Smoothie (24oz): 273 calories, 8.5g fat (1.7g saturated fat) 44.5 g carbohydrate, 2.8 g fibre. Zone Perfect bar: 190 calories, 8g fat (2g saturated fat), 20g carbohydrate, 3g fibre, 10g protein. Nutribar High Fibre: 230 calories, 6g fat (3g saturated fat) 34g carbohydrates, 5g fibre, 12g protein. Most dietary guidelines recommend less than 30% of calories come from fat, and less than 10% of calories from saturated fat, making the Zone Perfect bar (38% fat) and Nutribar (11.5% saturated fat) less than ideal choices. The Cliff bar is very high carbohydrate at 65%, so beware of this one if you are carb-phobic! Surprisingly, the Jugo Juice smoothie is relatively well-balanced and probably quite delicious. As for that mars bar: 260 calories, 9.9g fat (34%), 4.8g saturated fat (17%), 40g carbohydrate (62%) and 2.5g protein (3.8%). So really, it doesn’t look a lot worse than a lot of the ‘healthy’ energy bars. And boy is it delicious!

I’m not suggesting eating a candy bar instead lunch. But I don’t think that skipping meals in lieu of energy bars on a regular basis is a practice backed up by a lot of science either. Here’s a novel thought: instead of a meal replacement bar how about a real meal? Sit down, take a break, and eat. Remember the 4 food groups? I don’t even know where one would place brown rice syrup, soy rice crisps, barley malt extract, or invert evaporated cane juice on that meal. These are just some of the ingredients in common energy bars. I think it’s time to get back to basics. Healthy doesn’t have to mean it has to be bought from a health food store, have a health claim on the label, be tasteless or make you feel like you are repenting for all past dietary sins. In fact, it has been proven time and time again that depriving yourself can be diet sabotage as it often leads to overeating later. If you are watching your waistline, there are many healthy options that are well balanced, taste delicious, and will make you feel satisfied. And if you still insist you’re too busy to sit down and eat, guess what? The world caters to you. Great ideas for on-the-run meals: Sandwiches. They come in many forms. On rye, pumpernickel, sub buns, white and whole wheat, as wraps and pitas, as donairs, on bagels or biscuits, even on gluten-free bread. You can eat them with one hand and still have a free hand for texting.