The Idiot’s Guide to Anorexia

Ilona Burton

Inspired by the claims of the now infamous (well done for that) Kenneth Tong, I thought I would use his inane drivel and his theory of “managed anorexia” to compile this, The Idiot’s Guide to Anorexia.

1. Anorexia is NOT a lifestyle choice.

Kenneth Tong claimed that he didn’t promote Anorexia, but “managed anorexia,” a term that “I coined and so I can define.”

Not only is the notion of managed anorexia completely illogical and factually wrong, but so is his claim that it was his idea. For years, certain pro-ana websites have claimed that you can be super-thin, through self-starvation whilst being well enough to not get too sick – too look on the verge of being ill, but controlling (managing) anorexia in a way that allows you to look anorexic without being stuck in hospital. Not many pro-ana sites will accept that they encourage women to become ill, and therefore the myth that anorexia is a lifestyle has spread.

“Anorexia is all about control.” You hear that all the time when people try to explain simply why people become anorexic. In itself though, it is quite the opposite. You lose control of all rationality and logic. You don’t manage anorexia, it manages you. Far from a lifetsyle choice, it is a mental illness and a killer – 20% of people with anorexia will die as a result.

2. There is a perfect body.

“I realise that my body image isn’t quite perfect yet. It’s getting there though.” – Kenneth Tong on why he has been putting himself off food.

Forget the ladies in red dresses on Special K adverts. Forget the ‘now’ pictures in those dreaded now and then pictures. There is no such thing as a perfect body although too many of us believe there is and aspire to be something that does not exist. We reach for the unachievable. Where anorexia is concerned, the perfect body is seen to be thin, very thin, sick. The problem is, once in that mindset, thin is never thin enough. You get to a goal weight and you know that you can push it that little bit further – it is never enough. Step inside an Eating Disorder unit and I can vouch for the fact that almost every patient in there will feel that they are the fattest person in there. Even without anorexia, so many people aim for something that just isn’t ‘them’ – there is no perfect body shape or weight and there never will be, no matter how hard we try or how many “naughty” desserts we skip.

3. If you skip meals you will lose weight.

“If you eat a bit less, you will lose weight.” True, but what he was actually telling his Twitter followers was that skipping one meal was a good try, but not enough. He promoted starvation. He encouraged girls to skip more and more meals, even to lose all concept of meal times.

“Hunger hurts but starving works” and “Get thin or die trying.” Idiot.

Skipping meals might make people think that they are saving calories. Research has proven though, that people who skip meals usually end up eating more later in the day or night to compensate – crucially, more than they would have had they just spread they’re eating throughout the day as usual. Skipping meals also slows down the metabolism, meaning that energy will be used up less efficiently, not to mention feelings of lethargy, headaches and possibly dizziness. If you try to fight against the body’s natural need for food (fuel), it will fight back and send signals to the brain to make you want to eat more, NOW. Often, this can cause a person to binge. In extreme cases, the body can go into starvation mode and the metabolism can shit down completely. Skipping meals is not the way to lose weight. It’s nothing more than stupid.

4. Anorexia is just a word.

We all know it isn’t just a word, but once again, Kenneth proves how far-adjusted he is from reality. His point is worth consideration though, as the way the words ‘anorexia’ and ‘anorexic’ are thrown around are quite a bugbear of mine.

There is no such thing as Manorexia, Pregorexia or any other (insert word)-orexia. Just as you wouldn’t say Mancancer or Pregpolar Disorder. They may sound catchy, but they are illogical when broken down and fabricated by the media to make them sound – I don’t know – more attractive? I don’t even know, but it doesn’t make sense so just, just stop it.

I also hate it when – and I hear this a lot – anorexic is used as an adjective. An anorexic (or medically, an anoretic) is someone who has Anorexia Nervosa. It doesn’t describe the way someone looks, despite what you may think. You don’t have to resemble a skeleton to be anorexic and it certainly doesn’t help to have this myth perpetuated by magazines that display pictures of extremely emaciated people alongside every story on the subject. Why? One of the main reasons is that there are hundreds of thousands of people who live with anorexia who are underweight, but perhaps not visibly as ill as the images we are used to seeing in association with the word anorexia. Those people will often feel that they don’t deserve care or treatment because they don’t feel valid – this is probably a contributing factor to serious cases of anorexia; it is simply left too long before it can be treated. People need to understand that the media uses extremes. Anorexia is all around us, it just isn’t as obvious as they would have us believe.

5. You can snap out of Anorexia.

“An anorexic is not an anorexic for life, they could snap out of it at any moment they want.”

Wrong again. Tong has the audacity to say that if David Beckham were to stroll into an anorexia clinic and tell a girl that she looked just fine, that she would believe him and no longer hate herself. So, someone would immediately stop destroying their body if “someone with credibility” told them so. This is just laughable. Even those people who jokingly tell me I need a burger or a pie or whatever, even they must know that there is more to anorexia than a simple choice to not eat. If the cure to anorexia was at all snappable in the least, thousands of lives would not be lost every year. I was offended reading this because I, and many others I know, have spent years of our lives wanting, trying, fighting to get better. We know more than anyone that there is no snapping to be done.

6. Girls in hospital simply “pushed it too far.”

When asked what he would say if he were to visit service users in an anorexia clinic, Tong replied: “It’s unnecessary to go to that extreme. We all know it doesn’t look right when you push it too hard. I’d say Size Zero, I didn’t say go anything thinner than that.”

Ahh, see nobody told me that. There wasn’t a stop sign when I was starving myself. I should’ve known – if only Kenny was around back then, he could have saved me.

This is going to be the last point I pick this little piece of shit person up on. I have skipped many of his comments simply because when I began writing, I wanted to use his views to address some of the misconceptions about anorexia that are present in society and amongst the average Joe who simply doesn’t know much about the illness. Whilst reading though, it becomes obvious that Kenneth Tong is beyond that and that to pick up on some of the points to explain the truth would just be utterly patronising. A waste of an hour then, perhaps, but I hope that some it it might mean something to some people.

Back to pushing it. Yes, perhaps those of us who wind up in hospital may have pushed our bodies, and our minds, that bit too far. But a tiny minority of us chose to do that. There is no choice with anorexia. The brain shuts down, the illness takes over.

Anorexia cannot be mananged, controlled, limited or cured. It is a serious mental illness, it kills and it deserves to be respected.

The sooner we all understand that, the better.

I would like to thank Johann Hari for his absolutely fantastic interview with Kenneth Tong – simply stunning.

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  • slimemold

    As someone who has seen relations emaciated with cancer, thinness has unappealing connotations.

  • BeckyLatimer

    Well done on this blog. Kenneth Tong reinforced the eating disorder myths, and your blog post certainly put things straight again. I just wanted to make you aware of a short film animation we’ve made with the charity B-eat that gives voice to women with eating disorders. It’s made up of testimonies of girls that have
    experienced the trauma of an eating disorder charting their journey to
    recovery. We think its a useful tool in dispelling the nonsense that
    Tong has spouted and would urge people to listen to what survivors of
    this condition have to say.

    experienced the trauma of an eating disorder charting their journey to
    recovery. We think its a useful tool in dispelling the nonsense that
    Tong has spouted and would urge people to listen to what survivors of
    this condition have to say.
    I hope you find the time to view it. Its just 6mins.
    I’d welcome your thoughts on it use.
    Thanks again for all your good work,

  • Aimee Catherine

    oh my words. Ilona you know that I love your blog. You say what I wish someone could have told me years ago and prevented everything that followed.

    To those who think she needs to change topic – think again. I know so many people (note people and not women) who suffer from eating issues and eating disorders. There is not enough support, funding for treatment, or even awareness in some places.

    It takes one person at a time to make a change for the better. To give someone hope and a feeling of self-worth, by being confident to write what at many times that person is also thinking on their own. If i hadn’t had a friend from a ED support forum post me a message I would feel very alone and that I was not ill just becuase my weight is considered ok.

    As someone who is techically ‘recovered’ I still have many traits of an eating disorder however by medical guidelines am technically ok. What Ilona writes is very true and accurate. Its a brave thing to write such personal things which granted are often on this topic but its something I could never do and hence will doff my cap to her.

    Ilona is giving a voice to all those who are severly ill, or even suffering in smaller ways and still not living a full life without this dark voice in your ear.


    To Ilona – even if it means that its just one person you help seek support, realise that they are ill and in need of help then job well done. As it happens I suspect you have helped more than one. Myself included.


  • Ilona Burton

    I took part in the interviews!! Love the final version, it’s done really well x

  • Emma Rose Campbell

    After browsing through news relating to the Caro deaths I stumbled across your blogs, and I must say these are some of the most inspirational and truthful articles I’ve ever read. Unforutantely the internet is plagued with stigma about eating disorders and I’m glad you’ve been given a voice, it’s an absolute breath of fresh air for those sufferers who feel they are alone with their illnesses and the silly misconceptions that surround them. Thank you.

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