To The Bone: Should You Watch That New Eating Disorder Movie?



The release of To The Bone, an original feature film on Netflix about a young woman with anorexia nervosa, has generated a lot of attention. Is it triggering? Is it thinspiration? Should you even watch it?

As a mental health provider who works with people with eating disorders, I watched the movie with a critical, but not dismissive, eye. I cannot recommend the movie to anyone who is actively in treatment for an eating disorder, or who is not 110% secure in his or her recovery. Parents and family members who are very close to the treatment process might also choose to skip viewing this movie, if only to avoid the pain of seeing your own battles reflected on screen.

If you choose to watch To The Bone, please keep the following caveats in mind:

This is not a film about eating disorder treatment. If you seek treatment for an eating disorder at a residential facility, please don’t expect it to look like the cozy bungalow in the movie. Your doctor will not drop the f-bomb. You will not be unsupervised at meals or allowed to make out in the backyard. In order to bring the viewer inside the minds of people with eating disorders, writer and director Marti Noxon has her characters share their thoughts with each other. Out loud. At the dinner table. While this dialogue elevates To the Bone, please know that if people speak to each other that way while in a treatment facility, those conversations happen on the sly, or are expressed privately in a journal or a therapy session.

This is not a film about how people recover from anorexia nervosa. It highlights reasons why eating disorder recovery can be elusive. It shows why support from people who understand what you’re going through really matters. But support can take many forms, and a romance between the lead character and the only eligible young man is one of the film’s limits. I have seen intense, meaningful bonds form between eating disorder clients. Romance needn’t enter the picture for an encounter to be transformative. Often these treatment-born friendships are volatile, fragile, and fraught with strong emotions. Yet these same relationships can provide a type of support unlike any other. Often they are the first way that a person in treatment recognizes that he or she is no longer truly alone.

This is not a documentary about what it’s like to have an eating disorder. It’s a fictional depiction of one (young, white, upper-middle class, educated, intelligent, artistic, angry) woman’s struggle to choose recovery over starvation. The narrow focus, informed by Noxon’s own experience with anorexia as a young woman, is at the heart of why the film feels authentic. Sure, the film gives a nod to other genders, ethnicities, and diagnoses, but telling those stories too would result in a very different movie.

Whether or not you choose to watch To the Bone is entirely up to you. The good news is the film is stimulating more open discussion about eating disorders, which may explain part of the reason that organizations including NEDA [National Eating Disorders Association]  and Project Heal have partnered with the film’s creators to promote it. But watching this film is not the only way to keep the dialog going. Read some of the 1200+ responses that readers of the New York Times Well blog generated in response to its coverage of the film or pick up a copy of Life Without Ed by Jenni Shaefer.

Did you watch the film? Did you choose not to watch it? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Emily-1

Emily Becker, LMSW, is an EWN therapist who believes that it’s the strength of the relationship you create together that generates meaningful change. Emily strives to greet each session with a curious mind, an open heart, and a wish to hear your story. This Fall, Emily will be leading Reach For Recover, a support group for anyone committed to eating disorder recovery. Contact her directly at 716.400.1605 | ekbeckerlmsw@gmail.com

 

My Baby Driver



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My son was granted a driving permit three days after his sixteenth birthday. My attempt to teach him to drive began the following weekend. We set out to practice in an empty parking lot on a quiet Sunday afternoon. We both would have preferred to be elsewhere.

Those first few trips in the car were as anxiety-provoking as riding on a rickety wooden roller coaster.  The first time he tried to drive around the block it seemed as if he might jump the curb and head straight into our yard. The second time he swerved to avoid an oncoming car, and nearly missed hitting a mailbox.

I sat in the passenger seat with clammy hands and a pounding heartbeat. I wondered in silence how the tiny child I had once held in my arms was now legally capable of handling a thousand pound death machine. Surely, I was not the first parent to feel this way. It would have been so easy to back away, give up, put it off, or simply pump up the tires on his bike and say, “see ya!”

I didn’t give into my desire to avoid driving with him. Instead, I told him that he wasn’t quite ready to drive around the block until he’d had more practice. I reassured him that it was normal to be uncomfortable behind the wheel because he hadn’t really had a chance to learn yet. I said it seemed like we were both a little nervous but let him know I was pretty sure it would get easier.

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Know Thy Selfie



22068562203_ccf6cffb64_kIn my last post I wrote about the importance of checking in with yourself emotionally; however, emotions are only one piece of self-awareness. “Know thyself,” asks a bigger question. This bit of wisdom from ancient Greece is often attributed to Socrates, but is likely even older, and was reportedly carved into the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

Does self-knowledge still matter?

Knowing oneself has always mattered. But a lot has changed over the past 2500 years, so this desire shows up today in ways that Socrates never could have imagined.

Consider the smart phone. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 77% of adults in the United States own a smart phone. Only fifty years ago, we all talked into identical black telephones with cords, without Caller ID or voice mail. In contrast, the smart phone’s ability to make mere phone calls isn’t the secret to its success. These palm-sized devices often become a miniature hub-of-self, comprising a person’s entire identity.

No part of the smart phone better represents our interest in self-knowledge than the camera, with which one can snap, save, edit, and then inevitably share, a selfie.

We have the ability to curate an endless number of carefully crafted images that shape the identity we choose share with the rest of the world. Selfies represent how we want to be seen by others. They do not show that we truly understand ourselves. We need look no further than the popularity of Snap Chat filters (even the puppy one) that smooth skin and widen eyes to prove this point.

I’ve got nothing against selfies. They’re fun. But they direct the desire to be known outward when it can go inward as well.

Self-reflection: a selfie for the soul.

The wish to know oneself becomes less daunting if you admit you don’t need to have all of the answers. Sometimes acknowledging mixed feelings about a life choice is a necessary first step to make if you want to make a change such as drinking less coffee or getting more sleep.

Whether you tackle self-reflection alone or work with a therapist, begin the process with a few simple questions:

What am I thinking right now?
What emotions do I feel?
What physical sensations am I experiencing?
How do these three answers affect my behavior?

These questions riff on Dr. Aaron T. Beck’s cognitive behavioral model. Asking these four questions in a variety of settings, from the everyday to the singular, generates important information about how you respond to life’s ups and downs. Slowing down long enough to answer them creates an opportunity to learn, grow, and hopefully make the kind of decisions worthy of authentic celebration.

A celebration which will, of course, be captured with a selfie.

Photo credit: Roderigo Olivera

The Power of Checking In … With Yourself



CatMost of us say, “hey, how are you?” to at least one person each day. When was the last time you asked yourself that question? How do joy, sadness or frustration feel for you? If you don’t know, then it’s time to find out.

Learning to check in with your emotions can pay off in a number of ways:

1. Naming an emotion takes away its power. In The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves author Stephen Grosz suggests that unnamed emotions drive actions that create unnecessary chaos and pain. So much heartache could be prevented if we stopped to identify our emotions before acting rashly. Grosz compares these strong, unacknowledged emotions to the proverbial tail that wags the dog.

2. Checking in with yourself is an important first step to creating change. If you don’t know how you’re feeling it’s nearly impossible to respond thoughtfully to a difficult situation. Imagine you are lost in the woods. How are you going to find your way home if you don’t even know where you are?  Once you know your current emotional location you will be ready to start the journey back.

3. Knowing that moods change makes it easier to tolerate the bad and savor the good. If you don’t pay attention to your feelings, you are likely to miss a positive emotion, especially if it’s fleeting. Positive emotions are like a cat basking in a pool of sunshine: beautiful, temporary, but thankfully still very real. Fortunately, no bad mood lasts forever. While it may sound counterintuitive, it can also be helpful to to stay with a bad mood, especially if you are still learning to name your emotions. It’s an uncomfortable, but important practice, especially for people who tend to avoid negative feelings.

4. You’ll be practicing mindfulness. If you check in with your emotional state in the here and now you’re also staying in the present. According to mindfulness expert Jon Kabat Zinn, “the only moment we’re ever alive in is now.” Learning to name the emotion you feel right now helps break the cycles of reliving the past or worrying about the future which prevent us from being fully aware of our lives in the present.

5. You will be kinder. Broadening your inner emotional vocabulary will allow you to be more empathic. It’s pretty hard to see things from the perspective of another if you don’t know what emotions actually feel like. Once you know how you’re feeling you may also be nicer to yourself. You will be able to respond to your own needs with greater kindness and understanding.

Learning to take your own emotional temperature can pay off in many ways. This useful skill can help you make better decisions, respond thoughtfully in tough situations, and it may even make you a better friend.

Photo credit: Tim Oller

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