Can you really be 'semi-rexic'?

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Caught between the rocky road and hard-boiled lollies it seemed only natural that the topic of dieting would come up.

“She’s into the sixth week of a sugar-free diet,” my friend, let’s call her Francesca, announced as we loitered in aisle four. “She has no energy, and yet goes to the gym three or four nights a week and really punishing herself. I mean, she used to look forward to her little sugar treat. She’s denying herself.

“I really do think she’s semi-rexic,” she intoned with purposeful gravity.
 
It was obvious that Francesca’s friend was going through some sort of existential crisis, but it wasn’t just her futile attempts to keep the kilos at bay that stopped me in my tracks; what struck me was the swiftness with which ‘semi-rexic’ had entered our lexicon.

A few days earlier I’d written on an Australian university report looking into the attitudes to eating disorders among young women in which one in three young women saw bulimia and anorexia as “desirable ways to stay slim”. Almost as an aside La Trobe University researcher Rachel Gold reported an explosion of “websites and blogs carrying tips on how to live a ‘semi-rexic’ or ‘part-time bulimic’ lifestyle”.

Francesca and I became quickly intrigued by this so-called new dieting phenomenon, not least because there seemed something patently absurd about it. Semi-conscious consumption we could easily accept, but a semi-eating disorder? It just didn’t wash. And don’t even get me started on ‘part-time’ binging and purging.

Moreover, using a prefix to adapt a serious medical condition seemed lazy, tactless and, well, half-arsed. I was pleased to have an ally in Urban Dictionary, which had semi-rexic pinned as the go-to word for “skinny people that look anorexic, but aren’t really for [sic] sure”; you know, like models and “Lindsay Lohan” and “Paris Hilton”.

Okay, so now we were getting somewhere. As with pretty much each one of our many modern-day insecurities we again had a couple of empty-headed celebrities to thank. But that’s not to say we should lay the blame solely at their well-heeled feet, either. Magazines and advertisers have long sung our (skinny) siren song.

Keeping up this not-so fine tradition is the UK’s Red magazine, which recently reminded us that there’s still plenty of mileage left yet in the negative body image debate.

The magazine’s Rosie Green starts out innocently enough: “I do not consider myself to be suffering, or to have ever suffered, from an eating disorder,” she writes, “but here are some of the things I have done in the quest to stay thin and slim.”

Green cites refusing to “drink a Coke someone paid good money for because it was full sugar, rather than diet”; spending “10 minutes every day of my working life trying to figure out the least fattening option for lunch”, saying no to cake because of pigging out the day before and—most disconcertedly—throwing out “perfectly good food” so she wouldn’t be tempted to “pick at it later” and “helping” herself throw-up after an “indulgent night of Pimms and barbecue sausages”.

Of course, we’re being made to feel that Red is providing a sympathetic ear and understands what we’re going through; after all, aren’t we, too, just semi-rexics at heart? Don’t buy it. What we’re being fed here isn’t a new truth, but a indecent helping of manipulation with a side order of “You’ve got to be kidding?”.

I also can’t help thinking that some of Green’s bad eating habits sounds confusingly like, well, good advice.

Putting aside the issue of waste (I don’t condone throwing out good food for any reason, let alone to avoid temptation) and the self-help hurling (ditto), there’s still plenty to take on board from Green’s “confessional” list, such as keeping tabs on your junk food and sugary, fizzy drink intake.

Come on. There’s already enough spin in the disquieting thinspiration movement, so why further grease the wheels turning our insecurities and anxiety?

No, I’ll not be wearing one of those ‘ironic’ Urban Dictionary-sanctioned ‘semi-rexic’ T-shirts anytime soon and there’ll be no ‘part-time bulimic’ magnet on my fridge door. I’ll not promote anything that makes light of eating disorders; and I’ll not be part of a ‘community’ that grows in direct proportion to the deflation of a woman’s self-esteem.

Go on, keep counting your kilojoules, berate yourself for having that second serve of ice-cream, go for that extra mile, avoid those scales, and steer clear of the mixed lollies aisle—at least for another day, but don’t bother giving it all a new name. Call it what it is. Life.

15 comments

  • I know women like this too---'I'm not eating any sugar/fat/carbs/ etc etc.'--because they're usually keen to tell everyone about it.

    I know one woman who is on a sugar-free diet and is going to expand that to a fat-free diet as well in the new year when she feels 'strong enough to do it'. I'm concerned she is graduating from semi-rexic to anorexic.

    Whatever happened to the idea of moderation? I think back to what we learnt as school kids--and what our kids are taught today--about nutrition. Foods with sugar/fat etc are the 'sometimes' or 'treat' food, they're not banned or viewed as some kind of poison.

    So, be on your sugar/fat/carb free diet...don't join in the work morning teas, or have a slice of birthday cake at your kids' party, but, please, don't BORE the rest of us by constantly going on about it.

    Commenter
    Nerilee
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    December 04, 2012, 8:49AM
    • Just want to point out that there is nothing wrong with a sugar-free diet(as in no added sugar). In fact, so long as it is within an otherwise healthy diet, it's extremely good for you. The problem these girls and women have is that the rest of their diet is generally bad, which leaves them malnourished and lacking in energy.

      Commenter
      Vegan
      Date and time
      December 04, 2012, 9:13AM
    • Moderation is great, but it takes a long time to lose weight from moderation alone. So a lot of people turn to a strict diet because it's the only way you get quick results. But they're not sustainable...

      Commenter
      OverFadDieting
      Date and time
      December 04, 2012, 9:36AM
    • Actually the negative benefits of a diet high in sugar a wide-ranging and go well beyond weight gain.

      I'm a guy who gave up sugar around 6 months ago and my life has been so much better for it. Many people don't know or are unaware of the damage that sugar is doing to their bodies so I often casually mention it in a conversation and if people appear interested I'll tell them more about it.

      I do draw the line at birthdays and parties though, on these occasions I will allow myself to partake in some birthday cake or whatever for the social aspect and because (yes of course) I do love the flavour of a great mud cake... my rationale being that a few slices of cake a year won't kill me but a litre of soft drink a day probably will.

      Commenter
      Adrian
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 04, 2012, 9:41AM
  • Of course there is no such thing as being semi-rexic. This is just an excuse for fat people who bully those who look after themselves. More people in Australia need to go on a diet, more than half of us are overweight. If some one is on a sugar-free diet, maybe tell them "well done" or better yet, say noting because it's not your business.

    Commenter
    Judy
    Date and time
    December 04, 2012, 11:51AM
    • "This is just an excuse for fat people who bully those who look after themselves.....maybe say nothing because it's not your business"

      Commenter
      Donna Joy
      Date and time
      December 04, 2012, 1:09PM
    • Judy - No, it's just an ignorant and judgemental label to describe disordered eating. As much as the author suggests she thinks these examples sound like "good advice", it reads like the behaviour of someone who's extremely anxious and unhappy about food.

      Throwing up after a BBQ is not "looking after yourself", nor is torturing yourself about a slice of cake and throwing away food because you don't trust yourself not to binge.

      This term "semi-rexic" sounds like the nauseating faux-concern so often seen in trashmag photo features. I can't decide if it's more appalling as a condition to aspire to or as the secretly gleeful handwringing over someone else's compulsive behaviour. But from the examples in this article, it's clearly not a label being chucked around by scooter-bound KFC enthusiasts, scowling at volleyball players.

      Commenter
      Josie
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 04, 2012, 2:42PM
    • Whatever Judy.
      The minute we all start labelling and profiling people according to their body shape, then we've lost out right there and the discussion goes nowhere.
      The reality is that there are more women out there that have erratic eating patterns. They may not be full anorexics, but there are also studies that indicate overlapping similarities between anorexics and bulimics, which is why, among psychologists there are different approaches in treating eating disorders.

      Commenter
      AM
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 04, 2012, 5:47PM
    • No. More people do NOT need to go on a diet. More people need to get educated and start eating healthy foods. Diet's are a crock. You might lose weight but your body hates you for it. The Government need to educate people and not allow gaps in health terminology. Cut the crap, start a healthy lifestyle now (better late than never), and get your life sorted. A "well done" here and there doesn't help, the problem lies within yourself, not what other people say. Oh and by the way, it is our business. Overweight people
      1. take up tax payers money directly and indirectly, which is OUR money.
      2. make people around them feel uncomfortable in closed spaces. Sorry, it's true.
      3. mean we have to read articles on problems that SHOULDN'T be problems if not for a little self control.
      4. increase the price of food... which is a major problem as those who are starving overseas can't afford to eat local produce because it's being exported to us fatties.

      I acknowledge that I'm being fairly facetious but at the end of the day (all things being equal) overweight people detract from society. Before you get aggro, I obviously acknowledge there are a lot of smart people who are obese, but obesity doesn't make you smart. I'm just saying, society is better off if people aren't overweight. It's not like the fatter you are, the better society is.

      Commenter
      EatYa5Colours
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      December 04, 2012, 10:52PM
  • No, we don't need another buzzword. There's already a good term for this, disordered eating. 'Francesca' was right to question her friend's punishing 'health' regime but I hope she followed up with her and offered support. Being glib behind someone's back smacks of insecurity. My eating is currently disordered and it's happening because of a significant setback in my life. I'm aware of it and trying to re-correct it. Disappointingly, some women keep telling me I look great because skinny = beautiful. I'd rather someone ask me what's going on in my life and suggest we go for a pizza.

    Commenter
    disordered
    Date and time
    December 04, 2012, 1:35PM

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