On Friday July 14th Netflix released a documentary about eating disorders and anorexia called “To The Bone”. The movie stars Lily Colins as Ellen who has been though treatment for anorexia many times and her family decides to try an “unconventional” approach with Dr. William Beckham, played by Keanu Reeves. The movie features characters from Ellen’s treatment center struggling with various eating disorders, as well as a focus on Ellen’s family life. The trailer for the film was already controversial and many eating disorders experts had commented that the movie could be triggering for many to watch. I have loved reading everyone’s thoughts on the film over the past month but wanted to wait until I saw the documentary before officially commenting.
I respect the fact that you cannot easily make a movie about a controversial topic and that many are going to disagree with details and have strong opinions about the outcome. However I really do appreciate that the project was made in the first place and know that it was made with the best intentions. Both the movie’s director, Marti Noxon, and star, Lily Colins, admit they have struggled with disordered eating and wanted to bring awareness to the public about this topic. This specific documentary has raised so much awareness about anorexia and eating disorders in a way that no “safe” educational documentary would have done. I believe the movie showed the pain and obsession that people go through when it comes to struggling with disordered eating. It presented a picture of anguish around food and showed all characters struggling with anxiety and depression, which is very true of clients with eating disorders.
With appreciation for the creation of the movie, I do have many concerns as others have expressed. My main concern is not really about triggering details, but rather about the overall concept that the movie showed “eating disorder treatment”. This “unconventional treatment” was NOT eating disorder treatment. In the movie this character was actually told “she needs to hit rock bottom before getting better”. Umm WHAT? Would you ever tell someone “Well you need to get to stage 4 cancer before getting chemotherapy?” The movie didn’t show the realistic amount of food someone actually needs in a day of ED recovery. The movie didn’t show therapy needed to process thoughts, feelings, and emotions of recovering from an eating disorder. And unfortunately it didn’t mention all the negative side effects of anorexia, including that anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Some clients in the movie were given a TON of freedom, allowing for the “dramatic effect” to play out. Clients were allowed to skip meals if they choose to do so, and one client was allowed to eat peanut butter as a meal, not realistic in eating disorder treatment. As a side note, of course that “peanut butter client” had to be overweight and struggle with binge eating disorder, presenting a dangerous stereotype.
It’s a passion on mine to educate others about weight inclusive wellness but also weight-inclusive struggles. I liked the fact that the movie did not give specific weight numbers when characters stepped on the scale or talked about their body image (although the movie did reference calorie amounts), but I feel they could have done a better job at educating others that people in all different body shapes and sizes can struggle with disordered eating. There was a lot of controversy surrounding the main lead Lily Colins having to “lose weight in a healthy way” to play the role of Ellen. I understand that she worked with a nutritionist and had a lot of medical supervision, and was fine throughout the process. However, my jaw still dropped when I heard that considering she admitted she struggled with disordered eating. Trying to lose weight or “diet” when you’ve come from disordered eating is a recipe for disaster and can be a major trigger for stepping back into disordered eating.
Recovery is possible and unfortunately this movie missed the opportunity to educate others about that. I truly wish they showed what the other side of ED recovery is like instead of ending at unknown points with so many of the clients that were struggling. Even just a brief 10 minute closing about recovery would have made such a difference in this movie because it would have shown that life is worth living. I also would have loved to see resources about getting help, but there was no mention of valuable resources like NEDA (https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/) or ED referral (www.edreferral.com) to reach out to get help. But yet, to all the people involved with “To the Bone”, THANK YOU for getting people talking. If this movie was “safe”, it wouldn’t be receiving the attention it is. My husband sat with me as I watched the movie and actually had thoughtful questions about eating disorders and mental illness. I talk about this topic all the time but it took this movie for him to think about it in a different way. Remember if you are struggling, reach out for help because recovery is worth it.
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Jennifer is a Registered Dietitian and the owner of Eat With Knowledge in Nyack, NY. She is on a mission to help people heal from diets, and find peace and balance with their food choices. She leads a team of dietitians who support the philosophy, “Feel Fabulous about Food!”
Start your own healing by downloading her Free Stop the Cycle of Binge Eating guide or her Free Hunger – Fullness Scale.