Speaker by Various Artists


The act of not eating doesn't save children

by Amberleigh Jack

There's something that's been annoying me every time I hear about it this week, and it's got nothing to do with boats.

It's the countless people, friends and general social networking contacts, who are taking part in, promoting or simply talking about the 'Live Below the Line' challenge.

I get the idea behind it, and don't get me wrong, it's a good one. It's the execution that has me wondering why on earth we seem to think it's a healthy, good idea to encourage and praise young people for depriving themselves of decent, well balanced meals yet turn around and cry bloody murder every time a skinny model shows up in a magazine somewhere.

Having dealt with food and body image issues in the past I'm not naïve enough to believe that a week of eating on a little over $2.00 per day is enough to result in an influx of anorexia patients lining up at the local hospital, but I'm also not naïve enough to believe that these kinds of fundraisers that encourage and praise people's efforts when it comes to restrictive eating and excessive self-control doesn't have any dangerous consequences for those that are already wired as susseptible to eating disorders and body dysmorphia.

I clearly recall the end of 40 hour famines growing up. Numbers and figures were bandied about after the two day challenge, but they certainly weren't dollars raised. Weight loss was the goal of the girls at my school and I am pretty sure that there were very few of them gave a sweet damn about the poor, hungry kids they were supposed to be helping.

It's hard to explain to those that have never struggled with food, diet and body image in any severe manner, but I've had the opportunity over the years to talk freely and openly with a number of people that do, in the most heartbreaking and life-threatening ways.

One that springs to mind was in her 40s, and still suffering from anorexia to the point where she couldn't bring herself to eat a couple of tablespoons of muesli and not making herself sick.

We sat and talked on a few occasions and everytime we did I couldn't help but stare and the bones protruding from her extremely diminutive figure and the thick, dark circles under her eyes, making them seem about twice the size that they actually were. Her heart had stopped on a few ocassions and was liekly to continue to do so until one day it wouldn't start again. I asked her once if she was scared of dying. Sure, she told me. But not as scared as I am of eating.

She was a wonderful human. And the only reason I've never tried to get back in touch with her is because I'm pretty sure she won't still be alive. And it's easier to imagine she is.

It's a side of the disease that most people don't see. And it's a side I wish I never had.

We spoke about the 40 Hour Famine once and she recalled it well. She'd done it as often as she could get away with. People would praise her when she lost a bit of weight over the couple of days and tell her how good she looked. And she could literally starve herself and not only would people not question it, but they'd actually praise her self control.

And the frightening thing is there are countless people like her, or people that could one day be like her.

I clearly remember the feeling after losing a little weight after a 40 Hour Famine. The praise over self-control, the encouragement over looking great because of it. It's easy motivation to keep going. It's a frighteningly easy trap to lose yourself in.

Which is why I never understood why we find it necessary to encourage people to restrict their diet, to starve themselves or to prohibit themselves from eating full, balanced, healthy meals, for the sake of what? The act of not eating doesn't save children. Raising money does.

I'm pretty sure kids living in extreme poverty go without other things as well. Pretty much everything we enjoy every day and could easily go without for a week without it kicking off a potentially life-threatening habit.

TVs, cellphones, internet, fancy cars, trim lattes, electric blankets, whatever.

Why does it have to be the one thing that thousands of people obsess over anyway?

I'd love to know how many people taking part in Live Below the Line are truly doing it for its actual purpose, and how many are using it as a way of forcing themselves to have extreme self-control, to eat less without guilt or questions and to ultimately lose “just a little bit of weight”.

I get that a lot of the food that people are eating on this challenge – the cheap stuff like rice and pasta – aren't the most diet friendly of foods, but to praise people for going hungry, for only eating a few basics and for not “cheating” by eating a decent meal when the body cries out for it seems completely insane.

You know what the South American kids would say if we asked them to do the same thing?

They'd look at us like we're crazy.

Because lets face it. We kind of are.

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