So I watched Louis Theroux’s ‘Talking to Anorexia’ the other day and have been gathering my thoughts about it since then.
I’m not going to lie; it was very difficult to watch, but I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing.
Anorexia is the deadliest of all psychiatric illnesses; the average duration of the illness is 8 years and the full recovery rate is thought to be around 40%. 40%. That means that 60% of people either remain chronically ill, or only make a partial recovery and live the rest of their lives with anorexia hanging over their heads. If I talk about it honestly, I don’t think I could put myself in that 40%. Although I left treatment for the last time about 4 years ago now, my eating disorder remains something I am very much aware of. I adore hearing stories and reading blogs about people who would put themselves in that ‘fully recovered’ group, and I aspire to be like them. My eating disorder no longer controls me, and I live my life as anybody else. I am healthy and happy – I am ‘in recovery’. But I cannot imagine waking up every morning and not having to make a conscious choice to choose to stay in recovery, over, and over, and over again. Making this choice gets easier over time, but it’s still one I have to make. It’s all too easy to fall prey to the voice telling you that you’re fat, that missing one meal wont hurt, that purging just this once wont turn into twice or three times.
Ultimately, that’s why I found this documentary so powerful. Yes it was hard to watch; it was triggering at times and upsetting at others, but anorexia is an insidious illness that takes over its host like a parasite and turns them into somebody else. There are guidelines that the media are asked to follow when speaking about the topic of eating disorders. These include not discussing weight or BMI, specific behaviours such as how much somebody is exercising or purging, and using before and after photos. Whilst I completely agree with these guidelines and certainly will adhere to them myself, I do think that by not talking about the extremes of some of the symptoms of anorexia, we are shielding the world from its true horror. We all know what we get up to within the confines of our competitive and sometimes toxic community, but the I think that despite other media coverage, the rest of the world remains blind to some of the harrowing things we put ourselves through. People are dying. We can’t keep pretending this is a disease of vain, pretty white girls with enviable self control.
It was heart breaking hearing about the experiences of the women featured in the documentary; what’s more heart breaking is how many other men and women are sharing these experiences at an ever increasing rate. I sincerely hope that by Louis getting to know the people featured in the documentary so well, there will be people all across the country with a better understanding of the vicious and debilitating nature of anorexia and how hard it is for people to recover – no matter how much we may want to.
If you need any support or want to find out more about eating disorders, please visit the Beat website here.