Documenting Eating Disorders

January 14, 2009

Last night I watched the first part of the film Thin, a documentary following several women struggling with anorexia. They are all being treated for it but each of them has varying degrees of wanting to get better.

As someone who has never been anorexic nor had such an extreme case of disordered eating, it was really shocking. Even after hearing about some of your own anecdotes of eating disorders and having read a fair amount about the issue, it’s not the same as seeing it “documented”.

Several parts of the film really stood out. Like the way that at the treatment center, only one napkin was allowed per person at mealtimes to ensure no one hid any food. And the way one woman said how she attempted suicide after eating 2 pieces of pizza. One girl started calorie counting at age 11. Even at the treatment facility, you can see that there is an underlying competition to be the thinnest person there, to be the most ill. There was one woman who tried to keep her calories under 200 a day (when the average person requires somewhere around 2,000), and another who joined the air force for the sole purpose to lose weight.

Your heart goes out to them, that this is what has become of our society, this is what has become of our obsession with food and our twisted view of “beauty”. A young teen in the film relates a fond memory of how she and her mum would chew and spit together- their shared eating disorders created a bond between them. Really thinking about it, about how half the world is starving because there’s not enough food and the other half of the world is starving themselves on purpose, it doesn’t seem to make sense. But as noted in the film, and as most of us can attest to, any sort of disordered eating after all isn’t about the food. We in the first world just have the luxury of choosing food as our outlet, as the object to control.

The documentary showed one woman’s birthday at the treatment center. She was given a cupcake and had to eat it. At first they were all joking and laughing, but then when she started to eat, her discomfort and anxiety became more and more apparent. Afterward, she was crying.

This documentary was moving. And eye-opening. It was also disturbing. It explains a lot about the disordered eater’s mind, however, and is useful for understanding it in that sense. And that’s the reason for documenting this or any issue, right? To raise awareness and increase our understanding of it so that we can prevent it from happening, can try to help each other.

At the same time, I wonder how many people have become disordered eaters because of films like this. Does increasing awareness of these issues also increase the potential for the issue itself to be spread? How often are these mediums abused by the viewers? It’s a worrisome thought, but I believe that we do need to have mediums such as this because the awareness and understanding is a crucial part to helping to solve the issues.

“I used to have a personality”

What are your thoughts on this?


  1. Seriously, this movie makes me quiver. It really speaks volumes to me….why?

    It breaks my heart to see the family and friends (shelby’s twin sister for example) so hurt by it. It really shows how EDs affect loved ones. It’s a huge reality check.

  2. Haven’t seen the movie, but it sounds fascinating/ disturbing.

    The sad thing is how much our culture encourages girls in the kind of thinking that fuels this disease.

  3. I saw it, and while it didn’t trigger me too badly, I felt for the girls. Their families seemed not to understand that the simple act of eating is really really difficult.

    Further (I don’t know how far you saw), but when Polly’s insurance starts talking about no longer covering the treatment because she was at Level III, she copes by doing things that the treatment center forbids, in an attempt to assert her “control” over something.

  4. amazing film isn’t it? glad you had a chance to watch.

  5. I am troubled at the thought of so many younger people with ED’s. The “images of beauty” touted on magazines, movies & TV can easily set any young person on a downward spiral. How can they learn to embrace & accept their real figures if they rarely see them portrayed positively?

  6. I’m sure I am not the only person with this point of view, but I know I am in the minority.

    Eating disorders are SYMPTOMS of our disordered food paradigm. They are not the disease, and until our society’s relationship with food is changed they will not go away.

    I have lit my candle and am a little voice in this darkness. I do not expect it to improve until more candles are lit, and changes are made. I do not think this will happen. It’s very painful for me to see how lives are destroyed and nothing worthwhile is done. But I guess our right to freedom includes destroying ourselves.

    Now we say, have a nice day πŸ™‚ Ne pas?

  7. I took a nutrition class and we watched a very short video on eating disorders (10-15 mins maybe?). I wanted to cry, because I could *feel* everything those girls were saying and doing. I was there, and I never want to go back. Crying because I thought that eating a tablespoon of peanut butter meant that I had no self control, when that was the sole source of fat in my diet. The thing is I still feel that way, even though I look healthier now and I eat right. Eventually I think I might benefit from watching these documentations, but for now it hits too close to home for me. Sorry for the slightly depressing comment, just being honest!

  8. Oh, I remember watching this when I came across an episode of it on Youtube. It was so scary to see what they were doing to themselves, because society evokes this image that thin is beautiful.

  9. I loved this documentary. It really changed my life, I think. Especially considering that Polly, one of the main girls featured, committed suicide a couple of years after it filmed. The most poignant scene to me was of the mother (can’t remember her name now) being out of treatment for only a few days and then throwing up in the toilet on her first night home…

  10. I watched a film afew years ago called ‘Perfect Body’ it was about a gymnast who is pressured into loosing weight and developes this eating disorder. Well a friend of mine watched it too (before I knew her), but she used to watch that one film alot. She learnt from it and used the technques in the film to hide it from her parents. I don’t think the film was the reason for her doing it, but for vulnerable people its a danagerous thing for the parents to not catch that one early.

    I’m definatly going to watch this one, looks really interesting. As a guy the pressures for body image growing up where non existant (my teenage years I was going the opposite way and eating myself to death), but hearing what my friend went through really shocked me. By the way she is alot better now, still has some issues with food and has taken it to kind of a semi obsession over eating right but she is well and healthy.

  11. Lee- definitely enough to send chills up the spine.

    Crabby- exactly. That’s what really worries me.

    Tricia- it’s amazing the extents that people will go to just to (re)gain control.

    Big Girl- it really is! Scary.

    Dadivastreet- that’s why need to get real people on the covers of magazines!

    Dr. J- thanks for this point of view, and I think its a good point. But would you say necessarily that all eating disorders are symptoms? I agree that our issues with food go beyond disordered eating; however, its a slippery slope.

    Maggie- REALLY appreciate your honesty and telling your story. And just because the surface appears fine, doesn’t mean that the mind is completely recovered.

    Sharon- society’s image of beauty needs to be redefined!

    Charlotte- it’s so sad… how its so difficult for the issue to be completely resolved.

    Jack- I was wondering if some people might not do the same. Am so glad that your friend is doing better now!

  12. I think the media plays a huge role in eating disorders. As a teacher, who has had an eating disorder, I teach a nutrition unit to my 4th graders. I teach the importance of the proper fuel for our bodies. They obviously don’t know about my history with eating. We focus on feeling alert and full of energy throughout the day.

    Great post!

  13. Sagan,

    This is a very powerful film and I remember watching this some time ago. I think that self esteem is the hardest thing to teach, and the most fragile thing to lose and hope that other girls don’t see this as a hero film.

  14. i heard about “thin” on another blog (forget which one now), found it on youtube and watched the whole thing (like 14 parts) one night. it’s moving and eye-opening and just … yeah. almost hard to find words.

  15. Wow, just hearing about the documentary is scary. I did suffer from very disordered eating, and I don’t think a show like this would have made me want to seek help. If anything at all it would have made me want to dig in my habits deeper. So the only point of the show I can think of is $$$ for the wow factor and other’s expense. But who knows.. πŸ™‚

  16. Strongandhealthy- with all of the things that kids are being exposed to these days, its great that there’s people like you out there to educate them on these issues!

    Tom- completely agree. Very wise.

    T- isn’t it just! Perhaps the fact that we can’t quite find the words says more about it than any words we’d be able to give to it.

    Ashley- it’s all about the mindset, right? One person finds a film like this inspiring and gives them the courage to seek help, and another person sees this film as “advice” on how to dig those habits deeper… its scary.

  17. Whenever I see movies like this I am shocked to know that people live their lives this way. I get this weird feeling and I can’t shake it for days, but then … I forget it. I know there is a lot of awareness about eating disorders, but not enough. I mean it seems so common and easy to hide. I think these kinds of movie are good sources of knowledge, but like anything else, can be abused/misused (just like a food blog).


  18. I didn’t see the program but it does sound really sad. I agree that programs like this should be aired to increase people’s awareness of eating disorders, but you’re right, there are those people for who these programs are triggering. I guess the person will know if it’s gong to trigger them, and would generally stay away if they can.

    Interesting Post anyway

    CP x

  19. I saw a part of this, or something similar and was undeniably disturbed/outraged/angered/scared by it and the thoughts it provoked in me. You know, the How, Why, Control it already! thoughts. I think that media is in large part to blame, but we also need to look within ourselves to set a bigger, better example to our children to avoid the internal dialogue and behaviors that can lead down this road. I have no personal experience with this so please excuse me if I sound ignorant, I have no intentions to offend.

  20. I have not seen this film, but your description sounds like it would be very upsetting. Having never suffered with an eating disorder of this type (not saying that my relationship with food is healthy, either….)I find it so difficult to relate. I also feel that for someone on the edge, something like this might be what pushes them over.
    It’s a sad commentary on society that we place such an emphasis on looks rather than the qualities that really matter, such as kindness, compassion, intelligence…….and humour! Can’t forget humour!!

  21. Heather- nice association to the food blogs. To some they are a really healthy way to do it; for others its just a trigger.

    CP- And hopefully the awareness of films like this will also heighten peoples’ awareness about what their personal triggers are!

    Rupal- Don’t worry, I don’t have much personal experience with it all either. That’s a good thing! All of your thoughts/feelings/opinions are always welcome. And I agree that setting an example for children is essential.

    Bag Lady- never forget the humour! I find it difficult to relate to some of it as well although some of it comes uncomfortably close to home- the crying over the cupcake, for example. I think there’s a BIG difference between having an eating disorder and having an unhealthy relationship with food/disordered eating, but in another way, the gap between them isn’t so very wide…

  22. I’ve known about this programme for some time but have avoided watching it because I’m pretty sure it will trigger me. Films like this ARE important and certainly won’t create an ED somewhere where there was no disorderd thinking before, but they can definitely make something worse which is already there.

    Because, yes, it is a competition. I had horrendous suicidal thoughts after going 50 calories over my daily limit. By eating raw carrots. It sounds almost comical now, trust me, it wasn’t at the time!!!

    TA x

  23. Have not seen it, but have heard alot about its. Sounds heartbreaking.

  24. I’m really interested in seeing this now! I’ll put it on my “to be rented list” πŸ™‚

  25. This documentary broke my heart. I agree that raising awareness is essential, and it is a fine line. I thought the documentary was very honest in the way it portrayed eating disorders and their painful psychological as well as physiological consequences. I think that those who are looking for enablement will find it no matter what, so I would err on the side of having, rather than not having, these kinds of reports.

  26. Wow, that must have been tough to watch. I think it is society. My husband and I were talking about this yesterday, how magazines take the top 1% of skinny women and then they take pictures of them which they touch up to look so skinny it is impossible. Very very sad. That is why I focus on health over weight…

    Thanks for the description of the movie. Very eye opening and descriptive.

  27. TA- thanks for sharing. I’ve never been that extreme but I know that feeling of getting really worked up over something tiny. It’s just illogical- thank goodness we are able to think straight now.

    Missicat & Jolene- it’s really sad, but it’s worth watching.

    Rachel- I think you’re right that people looking for enablers will find it. If a person wants something bad enough they’ll be able to find the information they’re looking for wherever they seek it… and the awareness is very important.

    Juliet- definitely all about the health over weight! (Read Gina Kolata’s “Rethinking Thin”? It discusses this very issue and is really excellent). And it’s true; those models are such a tiny percentage of the population, and then they get tweaked even more to something that is unrealistic even for them- what “hope” does the regular person have to ever look like that? It’s not even real!

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