Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ruffling some feathers

Yesterday I was dicking around on the interwebs while a friend sat next to me and read. I had just commented on one of my favorite blogs, KERF, and found someone who professed living in the same geographic region as me. I clicked and found myself looking at her food blog.

My friend leaned over to see the pictures better. She said someone she knows has a food blog as well. "I don't know, I just think it's weird to take pictures of everything you eat. It seems like ... borderline. You might have a problem there."

Which got me thinking - are food blogs an expression of an eating disorder?

... in most cases no, but in some cases yes, I think (come on, did you think I was going to give you a straight answer?). I read several food blogs, including KERF and Tastespotting. Kath is one of the most positive, upbeat writers I've ever encountered; she loves to prepare good-tasting, nutritious food and isn't preoccupied with calories or carbs or whatnot. There are recovery bloggers I follow who periodically post pictures of their foodage. For these writers, it's not a pathology so much as a tool for improvement. They take photos to hold themselves accountable. It's more intimate, more concrete than checking boxes on a meal-plan sheet (y'all have been there, I know). Seeing food, I think, serves as a reminder that hey, this tasted good. I don't have to hate myself for eating. For someone who's been limiting her- or himself to a spartan, no-frills, bare-bones* diet, it facilitates thinking of food as pleasurable and fun again.

For some bloggers, it's a way to share a hobby - vegetarianism or veganism, eating whole foods, creating recipes, or photography. For others - and here's where it gets tricky - it's an online, public food journal, kept for the purpose of losing weight. I know that food journaling will NOT be pathological for the vast majority of people who do it. Food journaling can be a very helpful tool in changing your diet, and if you want to share your experiences with others, more power to you. I'm not entirely comfortable with the "lose lose lose" mentality of some bloggers, but that's the world we live in.

Food journaling can also be a ticket to Crazytown. I can see someone beginning a blog with the intention of dropping a few pounds and then using it as a way to continually decrease intake. Just a little less than yesterday - that's awfully familiar. I haven't seen any pro-ED blogs like this - I'm not out looking for them, of course - but I imagine there are a few. Actually, there are probably a heartbreakingly large number of them.

Like I said, the vast majority of food blogs are a fun way to engage with like-minded others. People in recovery can benefit, too, by fixing their relationship with food and eating. I just hope that pro-ED bloggers stumble upon Kath's blog, or several others, and realize there's a different way to live.

*Cliche Olympics, that was


Carrie Arnold said...

I don't think food blogs are inherently disordered, no. But the ones where people take pictures of, and post, everything they eat? Those strike me as much more disordered, even if it's from a healthy or recovery-oriented perspective. It strikes me as a way to stay obsessed with food and what you eat. It's a way to compare and get feedback and even reassurance that you're okay based on what you do or don't eat. That it might create constraints on true responsible/intuitive eating because you begin to worry what people will think if you were to post pictures of what you just ate.

That's why I don't read them, anyway. I compare and despair. Nor do I have any basis to say that they're being completely honest. Occasional pictures of food and such don't bother me, but when that's at least 75% of your blog, and you're in recovery, something strikes me that you might want to reevaluate your priorities.

I do understand that these bloggers are doing it to be healthy and to share and to have fun, etc. And maybe it's okay for them. I don't know. But many people with EDs are obsessed with food (even into recovery, as I well know!), and this strikes me as a peculiarly modern expression of that. As I move through recovery, I want to get away from thinking about every fucking thing that I eat. I just remain skeptical how healthy these are.

Cammy said...

I've been tossing around an idea for a post about this for a while, but wasn't confident I could articulate it well without "ruffling feathers," but you did a great job. I have noticed there seem to be two kinds of ED recovery blogs: the "foodie" style ones with photo documentation of every bite, and the ones that go way out of their way to never mention specific foods, numbers, etc. I have a lot of reservations about food blogging for ED sufferers, it just seems like it facilitates a constant focus and obsession with food, which can mask the actual issues at fault. Maybe I am biased here, because most of the ones I have come across just seemed too triggering to me. I have a hard enough time following my mealplan without the added anxiety of comparing it to the photos of every bite that goes into someone else's mouth. As I said, maybe this is more a reflection of my own status than the blogger's, but I would guess that in that regard, I'm not unique in the world of recovering ED sufferers.

I can see how it might be useful as a tool to keep oneself accountable to a mealplan. For myself, though, it would make me incredibly self-conscious and would unquestionably impact my food choices.

Basically everything else I have to say is an echo of Carrie's last paragraph. I don't doubt that many of these blogs are well-intentioned, honest attempts to manage recovery, but I do worry that it can quickly become just another wrinkle in the ED instead of a road out of it.

Laura said...

I've been in recovery from anorexia for three years and my food blog was started as a vegan cooking and fitness blog, I don't write anything about my ed on it, I found out recovery blogs existed a while after I'd started my blog and I love reading those too. I think having a food blog can be somewhat related to ed, I know I spend a lot more time thinking about food than your average person and I started a blog after spending hours looking at other people's blogs. Mine is sort of a healthier way for me to have an interest or obsession about food I guess, it's a way for me to try and think more positively about food... I don't know if I really answered your question or just rambled on there heh

Anonymous said...

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Cammy said...

Now that I reread my comment, I hope I didn't come off as too harsh. Just wanted to re-emphasize that I worry about the ED-food blog just as much for the blogger as for the readers, and there are probably some people who can use it as a positive tool, if their mindset is right. I still wouldn't feel comfortable with it. It would be interesting to do some kind of analysis on food blogs by ED sufferers and non-ED authors, I don't read enough of them to really comment intelligently on any comparative trends.

One thing I have seen on recovery blogs is calorie counts included in the menus/photos, which does seem like it would be detrimental.

(PS word verification is "pactives", is that like an agreement to not be lazy?)

Anonymous said...

Very nicely said. I'm one of those people who are trying to recover from ED, and use this blog as a tool and incentive to continually challenge myself. also, the support group here is amazing, and it gives me hope and encouragement to keep on going.
that said, I do stumble across some blogs that seem to be borderline ED...they just simply seem too obsessive and eat way too little!
I think food blogging is good for some people, while it can be detrimental to others, as perhaps some may be triggered into thinking they're eating too much or something compared to xxx.

Cammy said...

Ok, I don't mean to hijack the comments here, but I did want to issue one more clarification. I do think it's interesting when bloggers post recipes for favorite dishes, or share some significant meal, etc, I think that's healthy and fine, my concerns are mostly for the obsessive photo-diary style ones. I don't want to seem like I think that ED bloggers should never mention food, because learning to enjoy eating again can be a major hurdle in recovery for some people. Anyway, seeing Burp and Slurp's comment reminded me of that, because I happen to find her blog to be pretty wonderful, and other bloggers such as Ai Lu do a great job of sharing recipes without making it an obsession. ;)

PS Word verification is "nonuckle". Sounds like a terrible joint disorder.

elizabeth said...

I love food blogs. I don't know if I've seen a food journal in photo form, that does seem disordered to me, posting everything you eat for the world to see. I always entertain the idea of posting photos of difficult, beautifully prepared meals. I love that food can be such a wonderful social, delicious, pretty thing. I imagine most food blogs strive to make food a more social, fun, normalish thing.
interesting definitely though.

Kristina said...

I will admit that I am both a "foodie" and also someone who has had an eating disorder. A paradox or an oxymoron, I'm not sure. While I like food sites (epicurious.com), subscribe to "Food and Wine, and enjoy books that are about food ("The Debt to Pleasure" which is one of the most wicked books I've ever read), I'm not a fan of reading about what people eat every single f-ing day. If it is significant, then yes, please post. I certainly discuss food and meals with friends, my partner, family, etc... But I don't want to share every meal with every person in my life.
However, maybe it is a way of being accountable, as others have suggested, a way to begin to "enjoy" food? And perhaps that will lead to something quite healthy?

Sarah said...

I haven't posted mainly because I enjoyed reading everyone else's comments. I share your concern and I definitely would advise only reading a few good, healthy ones and really evaluating why you read them. I subscribe to Kath's and Jenna's and usually read a few others throughout the week. Jenna has really taught me how to enjoy food more and Kath has taught me a lot about cooking and meal planning (I think she's a little crazy but it's so awesome at the same time. It's like me without the therapy I've been forced into for a few years to make me less type A.) D comments as I flip through sometimes that I don't even look at the food, and it's true. Sometimes I just care what the person did that day because I think they're interesting. Other times, I plan our week's meals around things I find on them.

If you're looking at them to compare your eating or exercise habits, I think it's unhealthy. If you're looking at them for ideas of what to eat or cook, and only spending a limited amount of time doing that, I think it's probably pretty innocent.

And I am with Kristina--anorexic foodie. I thought this was just a temporary fixation, a byproduct of the disorder, but I've really come to appreciate and enjoy food a lot more through my recovery. It's pretty cool, really.

Tiptoe said...

I don't have much to add to what has already been said, but does it strike anyone else the amount of comments some food blogs receive? Not that oher blogs don't receive comments, but I just find some of them in the 30+ range and I don't know, it just seems odd to me. Are there really that many things to say? And this is not to offend anyone who has a food blog, only an observation.