Thoughts on To the Bone: Unmasking the Myths and Misconceptions Surrounding Eating Disorders

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*Trigger Warning: The contents in the post may be triggering/bothersome for individuals who struggle with eating disorders/disordered eating, but that is not the intention of the post. This post is about raising awareness and education about a very difficult topic that hits close to home for so many. Read at your own discretion. The movie To the Bone is triggering, controversial, and in many ways dark, so it’s difficult to address it without addressing some of those issues. I wouldn’t recommend watching it if you struggle with body image, self-worth, excessive exercise, or disordered eating patterns. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) hotline for support at (800) 931-2237.

After recently watching To the Bone, I didn’t know how I felt about it. I’ve spent weeks trying to put into words how I even began processing the film. For those of you who don’t know, the Netflix original movie is about an adolescent girl who goes to inpatient treatment for severe anorexia. The film is beyond triggering to anyone who is tampering with disordered eating patterns or in the depths of a full blown eating disorder. How could it not be? The film was created to portray an illness that steals so much joy and life from those who suffer from it, and has so many psychological and physiological consequences associated with it. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses¹, so naturally the movie has some dark moments in it, similar to the Netflix original movie 13 Reasons Why

I don’t get triggered by being around those who have eating disorders or those who exhibit behaviors because I know the hell that they have to go through to look how they do. I know the pain that they experience each day. I know how hard it is. 

So I decided to watch. I want to be in this field. I want to work with individuals who have eating disorders one day, and I want to be informed about what information (or lack there of) that is out there for the public to access regarding a topic that is near and dear to my heart. 

First of all……….It made me cringe hearing that actress Lily Collins (who plays Ellen) purposely and intentionally lost weight for the role. She herself struggled with an eating disorder very recently, so it almost seemed cruel and inhumane to allow her to intentionally lose weight after walking through a journey of recovery. Nothing about me supports that decision. I don’t care if she was “monitored by professionals”. Anyone can say that or do that. Monitoring and intervention are two separate actions. For this reason alone, I was turned off by the movie. 

For the majority of the movie, I didn’t know what to think, because it was simply one angle of one person’s view of ED recovery and all that goes into that. Nothing more, nothing less. One person to represent an experience that is so different and unique for each person.

There were moments where the movie truly did hit home for me, when I could relate to Ellen and her recovery experiences. Is that sad? Yeah, but it was a quick reminder of how devastating it is to live a life under the influence of ED. 

I didn’t agree with the weight loss. I didn’t agree with the blatant reference to triggering behaviors. I didn’t agree with the way in-patient treatment was portrayed. I didn’t agree with the nutrition therapy philosophy/meal time portrayal (which, by the way, doesn’t happen in real life). I didn’t like that for most of the movie, Ellen was without hope and not making any progress whatsoever. 

If anything, the movie convinced me more of the importance of sharing my story, and having open dialogue about disordered eating and eating disorders. 

One of the most dangerous misconceptions about eating disorders is that you must be extremely underweight and malnourished to have an eating disorder. 

Let me say it again: There are many, many people who have clinically diagnosable eating disorders or disordered eating patterns that have not lost weight, or have even gained some.

There are people who are like Ellen, who just look like they have an eating disorder, who bounce in and out of treatment facilities, and who remain extremely underweight and unhealthy for long periods of time. This is a very real and very big problem. But it’s not the only issue and doesn’t represent the majority of people.  

I once believed that eating disorders were only for super skinny white girls that looked like skeletons. I never thought it would be me. Yet, here I am. A year and a half into recovery for an illness that I didn’t believe would ever affect me. All because I believed the lie that you have to be skinny to have an eating disorder. 

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This picture was taken in the beginning stages of my recovery from anorexia, when I was severely malnourished and on the brink of admission to an inpatient facility. Most people wouldn’t ever guess that because in this picture I look healthy. 

Many, many people who suffer from eating disorders have only lost a few pounds or have maintained their weight. 

Some people gain weight. 

Some people lose weight. 

Some people suffer from severe physical consequences, while others can seem to get by completely unnoticed. 

One thing is for certain: Everyone who has every walked through disordered eating or an eating disorder has experienced trauma and psychological distress. 

Someone who is obese can meet criteria for anorexia. 

Likewise, others who are “normal” in weight and size may suffer from binge eating disorder.

There is no rhyme or reason to it, which is why it can be so difficult to detect. 

This stigma makes those who aren’t “stick skinny” feel more guilt and shame for the behaviors they are engaging in and the things they are feeling. Why would you seek out expensive treatment if you had no noticeable lab changes and you were at a normal weight? Most people wouldn’t. They wouldn’t want to be judged. They wouldn’t want to be mocked. They wouldn’t want to look crazy. 

I was one of those people. 

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I had a couple of emotional breakdowns the week of my engagement pictures due to anxiety associated with my eating disorder and body dysmorphic disorder. I don’t think anyone would get that sort of vibe from this picture. Things aren’t always as they seem. 

I knew that I had a “weird” relationship with food, but I never thought that I would come close to developing an eating disorder, much less anorexia. 

As I gradually began losing weight, (for a number of reasons), I began to get so many compliments about how great I looked. It was only my family and husband that began to notice that I had lost a little too much weight. 

“Wow! This is the best I have ever seen you!” 

“You have some nice legs! Do you run?”

“What’s your secret?” 

“How much weight have you lost?!”

“Your so healthy!!” 

With the world that we live in, I shouldn’t have expected anything less. I knew that I had a problem, but my rigid diet regimen and exercise obsession didn’t seem to be enough to communicate that I was sick. People celebrate “clean eating”, obsessive exercising, dieting, and calorie counting more than any other generation before us. Disordered eating patterns (restricting food, rewarding ourselves after following our diets, labeling foods as “good and bad”, obsessively reading labels, etc.) has become the norm. 

It’s like you can’t escape it. 

The Fitbit challenges, food comments, “fat burning” workout routines…..we love it, and in many ways we live for it. I know I did.  

I had to lose more weight. I had to send a signal for help. It was the only way that I felt that I could be heard and communicate the psychological pain that was masked behind the eating disorder behaviors. 

Most days it was easy to hide. 

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This was taken 3 months into treatment. It took everything in me to not look up the calorie, fat, and sugar content in this ice-cream.
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In this picture I had just started weekly therapy sessions. The picture seems normal enough to me, but I know that in my heart and soul that I wasn’t healthy and that I wasn’t okay. 

Others, not so much. 

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I didn’t really notice the muscle deterioration in my legs and arms until a few years after taking this picture. Again, in this picture, I was still at a normal, healthy weight and BMI, but that weight and BMI wasn’t healthy for the way that God made me. 

 

 

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I never thought there would be a day where I could attain the oh so coveted “thigh gap”. I also didn’t realize how much it would cost me. This picture was taken the day after relapse. My mom was very intentional about spending time with me and getting me out of the house. 

I dove into a deep pit of hopelessness and despair, most of which could have been avoided if I had asked for help sooner.

The point of this post is not to bash Marti Noxon or Lily Collins for their work. I think their heart behind it was to spread awareness and spark conversation. Would I have done it the same way? Not necessarily. But then again, I am not really into the business of making movies and such…so I just blog instead. I just didn’t want anyone who did watch the movie to think that they are not sick enough to get help. There is no “sick enough”, only sick.

The purpose of this post is to show the world a real-life example of life with an eating disorder, one that wasn’t necessarily marked by pro-longed skinniness and years in treatment facilities. Those stories are out there, and they are real and painful and true. But there are many other stories out there that also are very real and painful and true, yet they don’t involve weight loss, or as least the appearance of it. I truly believe that the one of the only reason I became malnourished was because I didn’t seek help when I began to see warning signs and knew something was wrong. I don’t want that to happen to you. I don’t want that to happen to anyone. That’s why I share my story so readily, to prevent, educate, and provide hope. 

If your relationship with food disrupts your life in any way (physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, or spiritually), you should seek help. 

If you cannot go to a restaurant without having anxiety about what to order from the menu, you should seek help. 

If you can’t go a day without counting calories (even when it’s just in your head), you should seek help. 

If you get anxiety thinking about a day off from the gym, you should seek help. 

If you consistently and regularly rely on food (or lack there of) to coop with stress, you should seek help. 

If you can’t concentrate during work, school, church, etc. you should seek help. 

If food rules your life, you should seek help. 

Not because you are crazy, not because you have anything to be ashamed of, and not because you are weak. 

Because you deserve better. 

Because you want to have a family. 

Because you want to be present. 

Because you want to follow your dreams.

Because you want to have a career. 

Because you want the freedom to choose between the rice cake with nut butter and the chocolate chip cookie. 

Because you want the ability to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. 

Because you want your life to be about more than food and exercise. 

Life is too short, and it becomes even shorter when disordered eating comes into play. 

Reach out to a trusted friend or family member. If they are worthy of being in your life they will listen, empathize, understand, and help you take the next steps in order to heal. 

Vulnerability isn’t weak; to be vulnerable is to be brave. 

To seek help is to have courage.

Be brave today with me. 

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REFERENCES:

  1. Hamilton, G., & Elenback, R. (2015-2017). Anorexia Nervosa – Highest Mortality Rate of Any Mental Disorder: Why? Retrieved August 19, 2017, from Penn State State Hershey Medical Center Eating Disorder Program

 

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