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Being Super Fit Doesn't Mean You Don't Have an Eating Disorder

02/03/2014 05:12 EST | Updated 04/06/2014 05:59 EDT

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine entered a fitness modelling competition. Her reasoning for the entry was unique and sound -- she simply wanted to see if she could do it. She wanted to train her gorgeous little butt off not for a trophy, but to see if she could physically endure the trials and tribulations that fitness models go through to obtain the most unobtainable of physiques. As an added bonus, it would serve as a hearty "Ha ha" to her ex-boyfriend.

Her process fascinated me. When we went out to restaurants together, she would survey the menu and make her selections based on whether or not it was a "cheat" day that would permit her to eat whatever she wanted. From time to time, we would meet after a grueling day at the gym. "I did, like, 200 squats today," she'd say. "All I want is a whole cake." Naturally, I laughed at her. She was loveable in her gym devotion, despite being completely insane.

As the competition day approached, she told me about the preparation she would be going through in her final stages. This included a loading of carbohydrates and proteins in the weeks before competition, followed by a strict diet in the days before competition. In addition, she would be consuming little-to-no water 48 hours before walking onto the stage. The food overload in conjunction with the staunch gym routine was meant to build muscle while the water cutbacks were made to tighten the skin around the muscles, producing definition during competition.

I was horrified. As a person who really loves food, I couldn't fathom the regimen that she was demanded to perform. "It's just an experiment to me," she said shrugging. "But it's a way of life for others. You should see the scary things people in these competitions do to their bodies, and what they look like afterwards."

My friend's information inspired me to take a look at the term "eating disorder" in my trusty dictionary. An eating disorder is defined as, "any of a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits." I have known many people who have suffered from eating disorders, and my love and support has always been with them. We have reached a point in society where these disorders are both recognized and diagnosed, and a variety of support groups are offered to any person in need of help. I am, however, completely shocked and saddened that the fitness model craze is not only unrecognized as another eating disorder, but is also encouraged by the hardcore fitness community.

Before the fitness enthusiasts get up in arms about this, I would like to be clear: I sincerely believe that the fitness model module will be considered another eating disorder or form of body dysmorphic disorder within the next decade. The extreme diet (not to mention to extraordinarily unhealthy cutback in water before competition) fits the "abnormal or disturbed eating habits" of the definition. You can also argue that the constant strive for the perfect tan, the perfect muscle tone, and the perfect size is the "psychological disorder" quotient of the definition. Say what you will, but if you look up a typical fitness model's meal plan and routine, it all fits the bill.

Eating disorders are not uncommon, but they should never be encouraged. People who suffer from them often need years of support to recover, and some will wrestle with food for their entire lives. The same applies to those with body dysmorphia. The sensation of being too big, too small, or "not good enough" is a life-long battle that is difficult to overcome. Help is always available to people in need, but encouraging ideals that are achieved through restricted and unhealthy means is perpetuating the problem.

I feel sick every time I see the hashtags #thinspo and #fitspo because of what they represent on a psychological level. Though they idealistically demonstrate hard-working, fitness-loving people, these hashtags instead illustrate desperation, men and women who have the Ken and Barbie mentality drilled so deeply into their subconscious that they become lost in the fear that they will never be good enough. The ideas of having "your perfect body" and being "your best you" are like Communism -- beautiful in principle and potentially disastrous in practice, and with fitness modelling at the forefront, the line between personal best and dangerous obsession is wearing thin.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy exercise. I work out, eat well, and there may be a photo or two of the fruits of my work-out labour in existence. I say this because although I will engage in a good work-out or yoga class, I have noticed that there are parts of my very human psyche that want more. I have an ab, so now I want a six-pack, my glutes are looking toned, I need them to be better, etc, etc. It's a slippery slope and the fitspo/thinspo nation isn't helping.

Eat well, be fit, but take a moment to recognize the point when enthusiasm turns into compulsion. Anyone can fall off into the canyon these days. The diets and regimes that fitness models go through are not only bad for some body types, they're bad for all of them. People who are pursuing a life of health and wellness need better role models. I, for one, would love to see an actually curvy woman gracing the cover of Inside Fitness or a man who doesn't resemble a cyborg on Iron Man Magazine. It's time to let these competitions die with the dinosaurs and allow for health and wellness icons to actually represent health and wellness.

Fortunately, my friend escaped the fitness model vortex. She said it was fun to try once, but she wouldn't do it again. "I saw what some of these people looked like after years of doing this to themselves and it was terrifying," she said. "Tears in their muscle tissue, dark orange skin, just awful. I can only imagine what's going on inside their bodies." It's easy to forget the price of abusing your body when your in midst of something that looks, on the outside, to be success. But like any eating disorder, it's symbolic of a deeper problem that dwells below the surface. Support for the person above the ideal is an important step towards true, vibrant health, and I sincerely hope that we reach that understanding sooner than later.

Besides, orange is not a good color for any skin tone.

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