Portrayal of Eating Disorders in Media

“To the Bone” is a new Netflix original coming out soon presenting the story of a young woman who goes to treatment for an eating disorder. At first, I was really looking forward to watching this film and was so glad that the truth about eating disorders was finally being brought to light. However, I realized that after watching the trailer, I went to bed that night thinking maybe, just maybe, I could do that again; I could starve myself and be “perfect”. But then I caught myself; there is nothing perfect about eating disorders. For a split second, I had forgotten about the grueling side effects onset by an eating disorder. I forgot about the life threatening aspect of this disease. I forgot about the isolation, anxiety, self hate as well as the other uglinesses that come with it.

I questioned myself as to how I could allow two minutes of a simple trailer get to me. I realized that it was because the trailer was not an accurate representation of what fighting anorexia looks like. I understand that the producers of this film were attempting to spread awareness about eating disorders in an entertaining way, but the problem is that there is nothing entertaining about mental illnesses. Gathered from the “To the Bone” trailer as well as various other films regarding mental illnesses (which I will not list due to potentially triggering content) are a couple myths debunked. Here is the raw truth of what struggling with and fighting anorexia is like:

062017-to-the-boneMyth 1: People with eating disorders proudly recite the calories of everything on their plate.

Truth: Calories are secretly and shamefully counted in the mind. Even when you try really hard not to think about it, your mind will automatically remind you of how many calories everything contains and as a result will create guilt regarding food. Calorie counting is a trapping obsession, not a prideful activity.

Myth 2: You will find the love of your life in residential treatment.

Truth: When you’re in residential treatment, you have a couple other pressing issues on your mind aside from finding your true love. If you’re not busy in DBT, CBT or ACT group, and you’re not talking to your therapist, dietician, doctor or psychiatrist, you’re most probably too busy crying to get out of treatment and longing to go back home to your family. Any time with other clients is strictly supervised by counselors and nurses, which makes it somewhat difficult to have meaningful conversations with them aside from mental illnesses. It’s hard to fall in love when you don’t love yourself, or by that means, you don’t even tolerate yourself.

Myth 3: The psych hospital is a place where you get to play games and have fun with those around you.

Truth: The psych hospital is not fun and it is not like summer camp. It is a facility where patients are held to (literally) prevent them from ending their life. The staff there doesn’t necessarily remind you of butterflies, rainbows and all things beautiful in life. They are strict and abide by rigid rules to keep all patients in check. Most patients admitted aren’t quite in the mood to play games and do arts and crafts since they undergoing mental turmoil. It is an intense period in people’s lives and is a place where some patients are sectioned to against their will. Leaving the psych hospital does not indicate that you are “cured” from feeling depressed or suicidal. It simply means that you can now focus on the long road of recovery awaiting ahead.

Myth 4: Doctors will not try to help people who do not want to recover from their eating disorders.

Truth: Many sufferers going to their doctors with an eating disorder aren’t usually hunky dory about recovering. Recovery is a long, strenuous, difficult, but also rewarding journey. The idea of recovering and getting “rid” of their eating disorder can be very intimidating. It is scary to imagine a life without an eating disorder when an eating disorder has served as a comforting coping mechanism for so long. Treatment programs are in place to provide support for those trying to strive for a life that does not revolve around food, weight and numbers. Passion and motivation for recovery increases as treatment progresses.

Myth 5: Doctors take everyone in residential outside to dance and have fun in the rain.

Truth: Definitely wish this had some truth to it, because then inpatient might have been a little more tolerable. But what really happens, is that doctors, therapists, nurses, counselors and any other staff who may be around are constantly reminding you to stay seated. For the first few weeks, you get the “royal treatment” and aren’t even allowed to clean up your dishes after meals, since they don’t want you to faint on the walk over to the dishwasher. And if you would like to go outside, a staff member needs to accompany you while you are seated on a wheelchair.

Myth 6: It’s easy to “trick the system” during treatment by water loading or stuffing weights in your clothes.

Truth: If tricks like these are shown on movies and tv shows, be assured that the health care professionals providing treatment are well aware of them. Every few days, weights are taken by nurses while you are fully gowned. They also monitor amounts of fluid intake and make you pee in a cup before being weighed…not fun, and frankly quite humiliating.

Myth 7: You need to be underweight to get help.

Truth: This is INCREDIBLY misleading and false! The prognosis of an eating disorder can be influenced by how quickly intervention takes place. The “eating disorder voice” will tell you that you are not thin enough, not sick enough, not bony enough along with whatever else it may add on to make you feel unworthy of reaching out for help. Eating disorders are mental illnesses with physical symptoms. Weight can not be a sole indicator of the amount of mental suffering taking place.

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7 thoughts on “Portrayal of Eating Disorders in Media

  1. Fact filled post. Recovery is not a picnic. I couldn’t watch the trailer, reading reviews and seeing the still frames were enough. Keep fighting the good fight. I’m not 100% recovered but I do keep to a food plan and am maintains good health. Not wanting to ever lose my hair again is my ‘carrot’ 😉

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  2. Thanks for visiting my blog. I was really impressed by your post dealing with misconceptions about life in treatment. What you say sounds very much like the hospitalization described in the book, Portrait of an Anorexic by Maureen Ardell. She talks about other anorexics and various obsessive-compulsive patients being treated in the same ward.

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      1. It was published in 1985 by Flight Press, Vancouver BC, Canada. I got it at a book sale years ago, so you might find a used copy on Amazon.

        It was actually co-authored by the mother and daughter, as each of them gives their side of the battle. The mom, Corry-Ann, talked of how hard it was to get her daughter to be willing for treatment, and then most of the thinking at that time was either, “girls get anorexia because their mothers are too controlling” or “girls get anorexia because they’ve grown up in homes where their mothers are too passive.” S she felt condemned no matter which professional she was dealing with.

        And the daughter talked of the voice she heard in her head all the time. She called it her conscience, whereas to me it was an evil voice that scolded her constantly about every bite she ate until she was at death’s door and finally went in for treatment.

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