It’s a fine line…

by Rachel on October 5, 2010

between blogging about food and exercise and blogging about weird eating habits that probably should not be encouraged. That much, we know.

The Marie Claire drama continued all day yesterday, with the bloggers in question posting rebuttals, the Marie Claire Facebook page turning into a witch hunt, and my little Hollaback post receiving more comments and page views than I’d ever gotten before. Then Jezebel picked up on the dramz and — much to my surprise — I was quoted!

When you take away what we know about these women, and just look at them as a set of behaviors or “symptoms,” it’s a lot easier to see the problems. If you were presented with a list of behaviors and asked, “Does this sound like disordered eating to you?” you’d probably say yes. Pouring salt on food, eating really low calories, only indulging in treats when one has “earned” them through some very serious exercise, and experiencing amenorrhea…these are standard warning signs. But maybe we’re just too in it to see it when we read it, or if we do it ourselves.

After reading the article, my mother just said, “Always in the middle of it, aren’t you?” Really, we were just both amazed that I was at the center of any sort of drama and somehow not the bad guy.

It’s great to see this issue getting the attention I’ve felt for a long time that it deserves, and I’m really excited to be one of the voices contributing to that.

I’ll be writing a lot more about the issues raised on Hollaback, but I think the tough thing for all of us who think the article had some merit is explaining what it is about certain blogs that make us so uncomfortable. What’s bothering me, and what I think is worth writing about here, is the defense so many bloggers use: “But I eat! Look at the pictures of my food! Look at my beer and my pizza!”

Yes, I get it. You eat. But I feel like in so many cases, eating junk food — not even really good food, which pisses me off even more — is written about in the context of exercise. It bothers me when any bloggers — not just the “Big Six” — or, seriously, any women, talk about how much they eat because they earned it. I’ve written about this before, but I don’t need you to justify your meals with exercise. (UPDATED: Unless it’s sex/McMuffins.) Sure, if you ate a really rich dinner last night, it might make you physically feel better to run the next day, and doing an extra 10 minutes on the elliptical because you’re going out for beers later does not an eating disorder make. The problem I have is that almost bragging about eating a whole pizza in the context of how far you ran that day sends a message that you can only eat a whole pizza if you ran really far that day. And the fact is, you can eat a whole pizza on days you don’t run because you were really damn hungry and it was really damn good and…it’s not that big of a fucking deal. You’re still healthy, you’re still you, and you’re in no way inferior to anyone who went for a run that morning. And furthermore, I think when you take guilt out of the equation, it’s a lot easier to enjoy both the run and the pizza (and your life).

So eat cupcakes or don’t. Run marathons or don’t. Lose weight or don’t. Fall in love with your body (I’m not giving you an option on that one). But please recognize that these things are not dependent on one another. Do them whether you did the other things or not — and please don’t give us all your reasons why your choice was still “healthy.”

The other thing that really bothers me about healthy living blogging is the lack of disclosure about one’s own body image. The Jezebel article touched on what I brought up in The Thing About Body Image — that it’s so taboo to say you care about your weight. You’re expected to be skinny but not want to be skinny, and you certainly aren’t supposed to blog about wanting to be skinny. I wish that bloggers who do care about how they look would just admit that, instead of saying they worked out extra because of how it makes them feel. Because then we feel like we can only eat pizza if we did a triathlon and love our bodies! But oh wait, if you don’t love your body, then you’re also on the brink of having an eating disorder? I’ve heard this phrase a lot in the past couple days, but it’s true…you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

As much as I love rules, ultimately, I don’t think there is a rule for how to blog about healthy living without taking it to an unhealthy level. There are certain ways you can be aware of it, absolutely, and we’ll be getting into that more on Hollaback. But as people are arguing over what’s healthy and what’s unhealthily healthy, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s like trying to define what’s art and what’s pornography. I can’t articulate the difference, but I know it when I see it.

I wish I had a better explanation for all of this, but that’s what I keep going back to. I can’t explain why some blogs and routines seem so borderline obsessive and some people’s don’t, just like I can’t tell you the difference between a black-and-white nude and a copy of “Hustler.” But I know it when I see it, and when I see it, I want to work to change it.

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kendra October 5, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Rachel, I’m always impressed with your ability to articulate what others (including myself) can’t. You really nailed it in this post.

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2 elaine! October 5, 2010 at 5:32 pm

“Really, we were just both amazed that I was at the center of any sort of drama and somehow not the bad guy.” — Hahaha, you totally crack me up!

As far as talking about food in the context of exercise, I think it’s an important step *away* from disordered thinking to realize that food is nutrition, and your body needs proper nutrition to do the badass things you want it to do… like run marathons, do a CrossFit workout, throw some kettlebells around, etc. The problem is that it’s so easy for someone with disordered thinking to turn that around into “I can’t eat unless I exercise,” which ignores the fact that most of us burn at least 1400 calories a day sitting on our asses watching reality television.

Suggesting not to talk about food in the context of exercise is a lot like Jezebel’s plea to stop talking about weight whatsoever, which is a stance I also disagree with.

You’re right about owning one’s true intentions, though. It sucks to admit it because you’re not supposed to care… that’s probably why I squeezed it in at the very, very end of my blog’s About section, where I talk about my blog’s manifesto, who I am, and why a healthy lifestyle is important to me.

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3 Rachel October 5, 2010 at 5:41 pm

@Elaine — You’re so right in that when food is talked about as nutrition, it does make sense in the context of exercise. I do think being aware of whether or not you’re talking about nutrition or talking about treats. But you nailed it with the whole “slippery slope” thing. It’s like, “I went for a long run and I was SO hungry so I ate all this” and it becomes, “I CAN eat all this but ONLY” because I went for a run. And again, there are no clear rules on how to keep that from happening, which is so frustrating!

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4 Heather October 5, 2010 at 5:37 pm

You’re right, there are no clear rules. I can’t categorize what healthy living blogs are comfortable to read, I just know it when I see it.

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5 Aj October 5, 2010 at 5:51 pm

I feel on the outside borders of this discussion because I am new to health blogging and so I’ve been quiet. I think it is important to be honest and open about where we each are in the journey towards health and love for ourselves. I honestly can’t comment on the blogs of the “Big Six” because I really only read one of them. I do find blogs that focus solely on food intake and calorie output boring, so perhaps that’s why I’m not more familiar. I do think this is an important discussion to have. Health is multi-faceted – it’s not just food and exercise – it’s about leading full rich rewarding lives. And none of us is “there” yet. Blogging, in my mind, is about documenting the journey, not the destination. It is important to discuss our individual growth edges (I’ve acknowledged that although I’m slender, I struggle with body acceptance) and our growth edges as an industry (which you rightly point out that it is), which can include providing a broader view of what is health and a more honest assessment of the thigns we do that are not healthful. I think Hollaback is indespensible exploring the growth edges of this industry.

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6 Katie October 5, 2010 at 5:54 pm

I keep trying to write a thoughtful response but they suck so I’ll just skip to the main point. As I’ve read through rebuttals and responses, it’s frustrating to see people attacking instead of discussing. No, people will never all agree on this topic (or ANY) so let’s accept that and start seeing where we can find common ground and go from there. (I still feel like I’m not expressing myself well, I wrote too many damn cover letters today.)

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7 Katie October 5, 2010 at 6:01 pm

wait I wanted to clarify this is just to everyone about this whole thing, not directed to you…

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8 Robyn October 5, 2010 at 6:01 pm

“I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s like trying to define what’s art and what’s pornography. I can’t articulate the difference, but I know it when I see it.”

^ Nailed it. The thing I love about the blogging community is that we become friends with other bloggers so quickly. We truly, deeply *feel* like we know them, we *trust* them, we *GET* where they’re coming from. That type of relationship fosters a level of intuition about what you’re reading — you start to see things in a different way. If my good friend is really struggling with something, I hear it in their voice, see it in how they carry themselves. The problem with this is that (to inadequately paraphrase a section of HangryPants’s rebuttal) blogging is in many ways, a self-scripted, self-edited reality show. And maybe the unscripted parts are what we should become more intuitive about so we gain a better sense of when to really speak up and email our “imaginary friends” (your words, I believe) — “Hey, is everything okay? I noticed ____. How are you feeling? Are you taking care of yourself?”

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but let’s dial our radar up a bit so we can support and encourage our fellow bloggers.

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9 Emily October 5, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Wanting to be skinny or caring about how you look or about your weight is not “politically correct” and that is bull shit.

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10 CJ October 5, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Such an eloquent response to such a heated debate.

I’m staying well away since the one comment I did make on another blog started some kind of fight and I was called a sad, insecure blog-hater (blog-hater? really?). Maybe if I was half as eloquent as you I would have come out of it unscathed!!

Have loved reading all your posts on this topic and in fact have loved reading all your posts period since I discovered your blog – now I sound like a total creeper and a half!

-CJ

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11 Rachel October 5, 2010 at 6:52 pm

I don’t think you’re a creeper! I appreciate it. Also, it sucks when you can’t voice your opinion without being attacked…we actually have a post in the works on Hollaback about what to do when your commenters are so rabid, they won’t allow anyone to disagree with you. But anyway, thanks for the compliment and for reading and for commenting!!

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12 Danielle October 5, 2010 at 6:53 pm

I agree with you 100%!!!! The magazine sure didn’t take the right approach and was a bit extreme but the issues are being brought to the table that I am sure MANY people were thinking. I have loved reading everyone’s points of view and I really agree with what you have to say!

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13 Andrea @ CanYouStayForDinner.com October 5, 2010 at 6:59 pm

You are so articulate and thoughtful. I find your posts to be some of the most engaging and interesting reading out there. Thank you for always digging deep, for always making people question the norm. It takes a special kind of person to do that, and to do it well.

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14 Dori October 5, 2010 at 7:38 pm

You should write a book about THIS.

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15 Jess-The Semi Abnormal Gal October 5, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Thank you, Rachel. I love how you represent such a powerful voice “in the middle” of this unfolding drama and yet you are objective at the same time. Thank you SO much for showing me what a good blogger can be. You are my favorite role model in the Blogosphere (healthy living or no), so please don’t ever change, ok? Thanks.

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16 Narita October 5, 2010 at 9:05 pm

There is so much truth in this post and things that really needed to be said. I follow a lot of weight-loss tumblrs and they’re all like this! I have one too and only have about 74 followers and I am tired of feeling guilty about trying to lose weight so I’ll look good and not for just my health. I mean it should be for the health part of it but I just want to see what I look like without all this fat(I’ve been overweight since I was about 13), I want to know what it’s like to be skinny! And I feel like I can’t say that in my posts just because I’m scared that people will look down on me for wanting to lose weight for that. And I do the eat-crap-but-then-say-it’s-okay-because-I-worked-out-for-this-much-time-today! Who am I doing this for? Who am I trying to explain myself to? AGH!

Now that I see that I do this, I’m going to stop doing those things that annoy me about other blogs.

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17 Summer October 5, 2010 at 9:21 pm

I agree about most of this…but I have to say that I don’t think it’s a problem to say, “I ran 20 miles and ate an entire pizza.” What if I wrote on my blog about how I ate a whole pizza? And I’m fat, but I want to be healthy? But in my defense, I was hungry. Is it fair for someone to call me out on it then? I think if I love pizza, and I’ve always thought, “Man, I could eat an entire pizza,” but I don’t because I know that’s way too much for me to eat at one time, then yeah, I’m going to give myself some leeway because I’ve just burned 1000 calories.

When I first started running, I didn’t eat that much, because I didn’t want to spoil all the calories I’d burned, because (and I’m not afraid to admit it) I wanted to lose weight. Then after reading healthy living blogs (and yours, when you were training for the marathon), I realized that I did need to refuel and that you have to replace those calories (to an extent).

I want to be skinny. I do. But I also really want to be healthy. And my body isn’t like everyone else’s it seems, so I can’t eat cupcakes whenever I feel like it and not exercise when I don’t want to (and a lot of times, I don’t want to). It sucks, but it’s the truth. Most of the time I just want to crawl in bed and eat handfuls of dry cereal and loaves of French bread slathered with butter.

I DO agree that bloggers should be up front about caring how they look and not just how they feel. It seems that all (or most) of the people telling me that I should love myself, or that they love THEMselves no matter what, all have great bodies.

Again, I do agree that this article raised important issues. Having discorded eating behavior does not an eating disorder equal, and those behaviors should be discussed. And I also agree that personal attacks against the actual author are a bit uncalled for. BUT when each blogger raised the point of commenting on MC’s Facebook or emailing the editor, that had to be expected.

Your article on Hollaback was perfectly put, and it encouraged fantastic discussion. It brought to light a lot of things that I never considered. I felt like a proud mama when I saw that were so eloquently quoted on Jez. They couldn’t have chosen a more balanced POV.

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18 Summer October 5, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Good grief, that was long (that’s what she said). I hope it makes sense like it did in my head :-/

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19 Rachel October 5, 2010 at 9:32 pm

@Summer — I do think it’s okay to write about eating in the context of exercise…and I think that’s where we run into the very fine line. Maybe it’s that some people seem to ONLY eat when they exercise. Maybe it’s that I’d like to know that they eat pizza other times too. I think you make a great point, that seeing that running makes you SO DAMN HUNGRY can totally make you feel better about it, and let you know that you have to refuel. I think that it’s just my hope that these blogs can show that sometimes life in general just makes you damn hungry, and it’s okay to eat then too.

I totally understand the whole “I can’t eat cupcakes when I feel like it and still be skinny” feeling. I can’t either, so I feel the same way about that. I don’t want to give the impression that I eat whatever I want whenever I feel like it…but when I DO feel like it and decide to do it, I own it, even if the consequence is carrying a few extra pounds. So I guess I’m saying if, for whatever reason, you choose to eat a cupcake anyway — which I often do — you don’t have to tell anyone why it was OK. Like, sometimes I’m like, “Hm, well, eating a certain way will make me gain weight.” And some days I’m just like, “Uh, worth it!” (And I don’t know if that makes sense either!)

As always, love when you share your thoughts!!

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20 Summer October 5, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Thanks…I was so afraid I’d be seen as attacking you and get eaten alive. (Which is what we’re trying to avoid, right?) I didn’t mean to imply that I think that you can just shovel it in and not gain an ounce (I know you just posted about cupcakes, didn’t mean to make connections like that); I’ve been reading your blog enough to know that you take care of yourself. You’re right; we don’t have to justify it. But we do owe it to ourselves to treat our bodies good.

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21 Rachel October 5, 2010 at 10:21 pm

If someone ate one of my readers alive, then that is one instance where I’d say some justification a food choice is necessary.

But no, I totally know what you meant!

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22 Caitlin October 5, 2010 at 11:41 pm

A fine line indeed. I’m choosing not to go into this on any account but I really love what you and many (MANY) other bloggers have to say about it. As someone who has worked in the industry and someone who blogs, I see so many things and so many “goods” and “bads.” It certainly isn’t easy to box all of this up and tie a pretty bow around it. Thank you for sparking discussion and getting people to really think about this community, our perception of one another and the perceptions formed by those who aren’t inside of it (*gasp* yes they exist)

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23 MelissaNibbles October 6, 2010 at 3:33 am

Yes. I’ve been saying this for months now. I don’t understand the justification behind eating cupcakes. I also don’t understand the divide this article caused in the blogging community. I plan on writing about that today.

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24 SoupDragon October 6, 2010 at 6:12 am

I loved this post, Rachel, as I did the one at Hollaback.

I have to say that when I read the article my first thought was “God, that’s snarky!” My second was “but there’s definitely some truth lurking in there…” I think it’s important that there can be a conversation around this.

I actually stopped reading one of the blogs mentioned a few months ago, not just because it was making me feel crappy about my own choices, but because I was starting to feel uncomfortably voyeuristic, like she was doing something a bit off. (I also started a new job, had less time to read, and started applying the “would I like to go out for a drink with this person?” test.)

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25 marie October 6, 2010 at 6:27 am

I love love love this post. As so many others said, it was so articulately written. I am not a healthy living blogger, more like a “I love beer” blogger, so I’ve remained somewhat quiet about the whole debacle on my own blog, but so many of the things you’ve brought up both here and in the Hollaback post ring true. I wish the article had been better written so the discussion could’ve been had. It’s unfortunate that the poor journalism has disguised the real issues at play here.

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26 Bree @beeskneeslife October 6, 2010 at 8:04 am

I have said it elsewhere, but I agree with Marie about the article being unfortunate in that it was poorly done and the attention to the larger issue was misplaced.

I haven’t written anything about it on my own blog, mostly because I like to avoid the beating of the dead horses, but I have been thinking about it a lot. I have taken mostly positive things from healthy living blogs. I can’t recall a time where red flags went up – but maybe it wasn’t on my radar. Which brings me to my question of the week…will the bloggers in question change how they blog? Whether on purpose or subconsciously because they know “we are all watching”?

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27 Teri [a foodie stays fit] October 6, 2010 at 8:35 am

this is why I love your blog. Regardless of the topic, you’re an AWESOME writer. And I just happen to agree with you on all your points in this well-written post so even better. :)

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28 Rachel October 6, 2010 at 11:57 am

Awww, thanks lady!! :)

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29 angierunner October 6, 2010 at 10:47 am

I agree with your point on all the blogger that say ” I don’t care about my weight, I do cardio to feel good…” but they are like a size 2 and all the pics of them on their site are with them in sports bras showing of their six packs! I’m not a hater, but seriously? They would diff care if they gained 5 pounds! I just wish more people would be “real” about this situation, like you! I’ll admit, I do marathons because I think they are fun and I like doing things that most people can’t, but I also do them because I want to fit in my pants! I would not be “happy” running marathons and being 200 pounds!

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30 Ramou October 6, 2010 at 11:02 am

I stayed out of the Marie Claire dramz because, to be perfectly honest, it just gave me a fucking anxiety attack. I stopped following a particular “healthy living”/weight loss blog a year or so ago because the writer’s habit of flushing food down the toilet just didn’t sit right with me. Since then I’ve been weary of which blogs I do read, and have only recently been able to read any of them without going into a fit of panic, mentally going over everything I’ve eaten in the past week and whether or not it’s going to make me gain 30lbs.

But I loved this: “And the fact is, you can eat a whole pizza on days you don’t run because you were really damn hungry and it was really damn good and…it’s not that big of a fucking deal.” And I need to remind myself to say it out loud more often.

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31 Laura October 6, 2010 at 11:29 am

Thanks for presenting a discussion rather than just a heated response – as much as I love health blogs, it is true that some things could be misconstrued as unhealthy (and sometimes it doesn’t take a lot of misconstruing, actually, which is sad) and we should think about that rather than just emphasizing the good things.

I wanted to bring up though that I don’t really ever read posts of exercise-food relationships (like running 10 miles then eating a pizza) as if the blogger did the exercise then deserved the food – although I suppose that’s a possible (and definitely the unhealthy) view of what the post meant. I suppose I take it for granted that I have a fairly healthy outlook, but I always read it more as they ran 10 miles then were so ravenous that they ate a pizza. When I eat a cupcake after an intense workout, I’m not really doing it as a reward, I’m doing it because my regular meal was insufficient and I’m still starving. So even though I understand that many others could view it in the former way, there are still a lot of us that are probably reading it in the latter (healthier) way.

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32 Ana October 6, 2010 at 11:40 am

You know what really bothers me? Deification of bloggers.
When I first read the Marie Claire article, I got really mad. Not because the “Big Six” (Btw, the big six? Really?) were portrayed in a negative light, but because I felt that the writer painted the blog readers as a group of gullible morons. I have been an avid blog reader for nearly a year now, but I am not much for commenting, so I didn’t realize just how rabid some followers are. Surely, I thought, thousands of people can’t be taking the words of women — majority of whom do not have any kind of a nutritional or fitness background– as freaking gospel? Apparently, I was wrong.
After following all the dramz that took place, all I have to say is – HOLY SHIT. Reading the comments on the rebuttal posts made me really uncomfortable. While I completely understand the notion of showing support to someone who just got crucified in an international publication, I simply don’t understand why majority of attempts to start any kind of a rational discussion were met with hostility. They are bloggers, not deities.
The fact is health bloggers are human. They are imperfect, no matter what their blogs would lead us to believe. Everything they publish should be looked at with a critical eye. And yet, there seem to be countless women out there who think that bloggers can do no wrong. I’m not trying to attack the “Big Six”. I think they are all very motivated, inspiring women. I absolutely understand why they have such large followings. I do not, however, think that the lives they portray on their blogs are truly representative of their every day lives. Nor do I think that their lifestyle is the only way to be healthy.
I guess what I am trying to say is, I find it very strange that some bloggers ( Not the the six mentioned in the article) have been put on some sort of a pedestal, where everything they do is considered to be the end all be all of healthy living. I also find it incredibly strange that up an opposing view point in a polite, non-argumentative fashion that person is accused of having a bad attitude/being jealous/ not understanding the author. And that really, really bothers me.
What is the point of having a community if there are no opposing view points?

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33 Rachel October 6, 2010 at 11:56 am

I COMPLETELY agree. Did you see the MC Facebook page? It was a shitshow. The rabid fans is a topic for another day, but yeah…I’m so with you on this!

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34 Courtney (Pancakes & Postcards) October 7, 2010 at 1:53 am

Rachel, you are the best. Seriously. I thought your posts about this article were by far the truest and most balanced and well-written ones out there. Yes, the article was one side. But hellooooo… there ARE problems in this little world and now we are talking about it. This = good. Perhaps it accomplished the purpose. I don’t know. But thanks for writing so openly about it, I agree with you 100%.

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35 Tabs October 7, 2010 at 7:09 pm

I don’t have much more to say than: “Thank you.”

This is a great post. You have hit it on the head and I so appreciate your words (and more than I can even express)

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36 Natasha October 8, 2010 at 4:06 pm

I am sooo happy to finally find someone in the blog world that didn’t feel the Marie Claire article was completely ridiculous. I discovered the healthy living blogs in March, and strongly attribute them to helping me begin my recovery from anorexia. But for all the positive they bring, they also have a tendency to make me feel inadequate. Am I not eating “clean” enough? Am I not running enough miles?? Do I not have the right running gear, almond butter, vitamix…and the list goes on and on.
When you have suffered for many years with an ED, you get to be pretty good at picking up on the classic signs, and it makes my heart ache when I see so many young, beautiful women passing disordered eating behaviours off as just being health conscious.
Good for you for having the balls to say what the rest of us have been too scared to say.

natasha

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37 Bree October 12, 2010 at 9:35 am

I know this post is a little late now, but I have been thinking about how almost all the ‘big six’ and other popular bloggers focus so much on cardio. I can’t think of an equivalent blog that is focused on strength training. Kind of predictable, kind of sad.

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38 Betsy October 15, 2010 at 10:58 am

After reading this post, I’m sitting here thinking about everything I’ve read over the whole Marie Claire article and everything I’ve read on the “Big 6” blogs and beyond. Touching on your point above about body image, I really hate how the terms “happy weight” and “finally feeling comfortable in my own skin” have become the only ways acceptable to talk about how you feel about your body. I was really excited for things like Operation Beautiful and Faces of Beauty, but I don’t think they are doing much for real women actually changing the way they think and talk about loving themselves and their bodies.

All I can say is, keep posting and talking about this, it’s important and thank you for having a voice.

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39 Alana January 18, 2011 at 12:48 pm

I just started reading your blog and found this post somewhere along the way. I was really moved by it–you’re totally right. Sometimes I eat an entire pizza because it’s delicious and I’m friggen hungry, I don’t have to justify that! I love your style :)

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40 amy @healthyhungryhappy.com January 24, 2011 at 4:10 pm

i realize this was posted a while back but i just found it. this is a great article…totally honest, no bullshit-love it! also love ur blog in general…it cracks me up!

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