Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

What’s Eating Me?

A few people have asked me my opinion about the new television documentary/exhibitionist/intervention type show on E–What’s Eating You?: True Stories of Food, Fear and Obsession.

I’m all for raising awareness about eating disorders.  We need programs that dispel the myths about eating disorders.  We need to get the message out there to people with eating disorders that they are not alone and that there is hope and healing.

What we do not need is a television show that gives us the highly selected dramatic moments of people who are extremely sick.  There are two very disturbing myth about eating disorders–that only the extremely noticeably sick people die from them and that unless you are extremely sick you do not need treatment.

Spend some time on almost any eating disorder forum and you will find evidence of these myths.  People who have a list symptoms and feel hopeless and lost and don’t know how to get out of the hell they’re in will say, “But I’m not sick enough yet to need treatment.”  We are primed by the media that you need to be on death’s door to get help.  We’ll watch as models get thinner and thinner and not say a word until one of them passes out.  Then they have people rush to their sides and beg them to seek treatment.

And I’ve really lost count of the times when I’ve heard or read, “But it’s not like this is to the point where I’ll die.”  Here’s the thing with eating disorders:  it’s not a predictable downward slope.  People have died from their eating disorders after only having them a year.  People have died before their doctors thought they needed more intensive care.  People have died in hospitals.  People have died immediately after discharge.  People have died years down the road.  People die every day and you can’t predict when it will happen or to whom.  Sometimes, the body gives out.  Sooner rather than later for some people.

This show features people who are at the extremes of eating disorders.  They need intensive inpatient treatment, not outpatient therapy.  They do not need their  lives broadcast on television. The people viewing the show, they see the extremes and think, “I’m not that sick, so I don’t need help.”  Or “I’m not that sick, so I don’t have an eating disorder.”  The people viewing the show do not need weights or sizes thrown at them; they do not need to see eating disorder behaviors, they do not need to hear about how these individuals got sick.  I’ve had people contact me because they’ve been so upset after seeing parts of the show.

What do we need?  We need an honest portrayal of what it’s like to live with an eating disorder that isn’t worthy of television voyeuristic drama (and let’s face it, that’s what this show is) but still puts the victim in hell on a daily basis.  We need to let people know that pain–any amount of pain–is a sign that something is wrong.  We need to let them know that if they can reach out for help when they see early warning signs, they have a better chance of surviving than if they wait to emulate the people on television.

We don’t need any more books or shows or sites telling people about the downward spiral of their eating disorders.  We need shows and sites and books about people who have recovered, who are willing to talk about the steps they took to get there, who are willing to say, “Yes, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it was worth it and you can do it, too.”

When I was still sick with the eating disorder, my eating disorder would have loved this show.  It would have “fed” off it.  I would have gotten sicker.  What I needed was someone on the other side to say, “No.  Look in this direction.  Look at life. Take my hand and I will help you get there.”


November 10, 2010 - Posted by | Body Image, Eating Disorders | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I *love* your post, Alexis!!! It was everything I was thinking and more!!! You took the words right out of my mouth!! The sad part, however, is that I can’t pull myself away from watching this. ANY one of us could/could’ve been featured on this show. But I can say that A LOT of us have been hospitalized at lesser “extremes.” Just now on the show, the one girl, who was told at the beginning that her labs and ECG were “reallllllly” bad, just told her therapist that she didn’t want to do therapy anymore, so the therapist just let her go!!!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!! The SECOND Dr. Crawford would’ve found out about the labs or ECG, she would’ve been in the ER and then IP THAT DAY!!! Wow, this is crazy! I don’t even know what else to say….

    Comment by Beth H. | November 10, 2010 | Reply

  2. I’ve gotten sucked into the show. Watching kind of made me feel like a fraud since I was/am not that sick. On the other hand, it made me want to shake the people and tell them to wake up because they couldn’t see reality.

    ^ Crawford would totally do that, and that’s another thing – it’s hard to take those therapists seriously. Why do they want to be on tv? I think I’d deliberately avoid going to see them if I was seeking help.

    Comment by Jen | November 10, 2010 | Reply

  3. I’ve had to answer a lot of questions from a lot of people about what I think of these shows. My answer is always the same: it’s voyeurism; there’s no way this benefits the patient; in a lot of ways it goes against the message that those of us actively working to stay in recovery want to share with those who aren’t; and i think it’s reprehensible on the part of the participating therapists.

    Nope. Don’t like’em, won’t watch’em. Back in the day, when my old tricks weren’t working and I needed something new, I would have. Now? I see them for what they are.

    Comment by Michelle | November 11, 2010 | Reply

  4. I live in Canada so I’ve haven’t seen this show yet. However I work for a Canadian broadcaster and we’ve just licensed a Canadian version of Intervention. I know the producers are hoping to cast at least one eating disordered person this season. On the one hand, I feel excited to be involved in a project that I feel passionately about, that raises awareness about the illness, and gets people into treatment that they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. On the other, I am concerned about everything you mention. Do you have any thoughts about the Intervention format that I could share with the producer?

    Comment by Renee | November 11, 2010 | Reply

  5. Well said Lex. I watched the show last night and was a little shocked.I say a little b/c it’s TV and sensationalized so I expected some of what I watched.
    I have been recovered for several years now. (By that, I mean I no longer wish to lose weight, I’m at a healthy weight, and I don’t obsess over food, ect…)
    I STILL had the thought, “I was sicker than she is.” As soon as I had that thought, I was appalled at myself. I still feel ashamed of myself about it. I keep asking myself why I thought that mattered. Am I secretly still proud at how sick I got?
    This type of show is such a slippery slope, both ways. One person can say “I’m not sick enough yet” and another can get a false sense of self-esteem to keep using the behaviors because they want to be “The Sickest.”
    And sadly, the only way to stop this type of show being made is to either stop watching or stop buying the products that are sponsoring it.
    I can see why people with ed’s, recovered or not, are sucked into watching this show. But I will restrain myself and not watch it again.

    Comment by just me | November 11, 2010 | Reply

  6. I’ve never heard of that show. (Then again, I don’t watch television!)

    I’m absolutely SICKENED to hear of a show like this being made, it’s despicable. No one who has an eating disorder should have their private life thrown on national television, this doesn’t help ANYONE and can make the person even WORSE. I can’t even put into words how ANGRY hearing about this stupid show has made me. Whoever thought up this horrible show knows NOTHING about eating disorders and should be ashamed of themselves. Ugh, I’m so angry about this I’m having a hard time writing.

    Again, your post is well done and I agree with you. (Why haven’t I found your blog sooner? We share a lot of opinions!)

    I wish this horrible waste of space could get taken off the air for causing damage to people who are suffering and ill and taking advantage of the mentally ill.

    Comment by BonyPink | November 24, 2010 | Reply

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