70: A Discussion Around the Controversy of the Netflix Film 'To The Bone'
Netflix is releasing a film chronicling a woman who is suffering from anorexia nervosa. While the documentary clearly has good intentions, it's stirring up a great deal of controversy within the eating disorder recovery community. I spoke with Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C about her concerns about the documentary and broaden the conversation about how we, as a community of people who are about these issues, might do better in the future.
Jennifer is an incredible writer, therapist, speaker in Rockville, Maryland, who specializes in eating disorder and body image recovery. She is passionate about helping people to find freedom from eating disorders and body-hatred, and to discover self-compassion.
Jennifer's Huffpost article critiquing the documentary
Jennifer's website including her blog and social media links
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Paige: Hey everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Nutrition Matters podcast. My name is Paige Smathers and I’m your host and as always I’m so glad you're here. Today I’m speaking with Jennifer Rollin who is a therapist in the D.C. area who specializes in eating disorder therapy treatment. She is specifically located in Rockville, MD and she’s a body image specialist, she’s an expert writer and speaker. She is just one of the most passionate people I’ve come across who is just so good about helping people work through eating disorders, body hatred adn to really discover self compassion. I just think the world of Jennifer. She is just so impressive. She does so many great things. Here’s a little bit more about her. She’s completed certificates in CBTE for eating disorders which is dialectical behavioral therapy and she’s a certified intuitive eating counselor. She’s a member of the Junior Board of Directors for the National Eating Disorders Association and her articles each and every week--I think she publishes about one week--reach thousands of people through print and online media where she writes for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today. She...we talk about this a little in the episode, but she does her private eating disorder therapy in Rockville, Md and she also provides eating disorder recovery coaching for people worldwide and if you’d like to check her out her website is jenniferrollin.com. And before we get into today’s podcast with jennifer I wanted to let you know about something. As some of you may be aware, some of you may not, I have an online course and it’s called Educate, Embrace, Empower: How to unlock your inner wisdom to become your own eating expert. This course is all about healing you heal your relationship with food because really most people understand the basics of food and nutrition but get stuck with that idea of how to put that knowledge into action. So this is an online 10 week course that you can take at your own pace where i walk you through the areas where most people lose focus or maybe even spin out of control when pursuing health. And I really help you learn to finally listen to that inner wisdom and become your own eating expert like the tag line says. So this is a self guided online course taught by me that is completely contained online and then I also provide weekly help and supervision and guidance in an online support group as well. So, there’s weekly motivational emails, there’s online support, there’s Q & A sessions, and the best part is you have lifetime access to the group and to the course material. So you’ll be able to have any updates that come through and you’ll be able to re-refer back to those lessons that really kind of blew your mind at first or that you’re still working on at this point. So, if you like the topics we talk about on this podcast, if they connect with you, if they’re helpful for you you might want to check out that course and see if it might be a good fit for you. So if you’d like to take a look at the course and get a little bit more information, head on over to my website paigesmathersrd.com/course. Okay and with that, let’s get on and talk with Jennifer about Netflix’s new documentary called To The Bone and the controversy surrounding it.
Paige: Well, hey Jennifer! Thank you so much for joining me on Nutrition Matters podcast.
Jennifer: Thank you so much for having me. I’m happy to be here.
Paige: Me too. Oh, this is...I’ve been wanting to have you on my podcast for a while and sometimes I like to wait until there’s just this perfect topic that comes up, or if I see this article that someone writes, or if I get inspired by someone’s work, that’s usually when I ask someone to come on. I just thought that this topic was perfect, given the fact that it’s timely, it’s really kind of buzzing right now. People are talking about it and…
Paige: ...I’m just really excited to talk about this from like a therapist’s perspective and then also from a dietitian’s perspective. I think this could be a really good conversation for people who are wondering, you know why the controversy? So, I’m so glad you’re here.
Jennifer: Yeah, no I’m excited to kinda dive into it.
Paige: Yeah, so tell us about how you heard about this documentary.
Jennifer: Sure. It’s actually interesting. So I heard about it, I want to say a year ago because the cast recorded this awesome public service announcement where they recorded the nine truths and I actually have colleague who advised on the movie and was able to get them to record...have the cast record them doing the nice truths.
Paige: Okay and just to explain what the nine truths are for the listeners.
Jennifer: Yeah, sure. So the nine truths is a statement that I believe was created by the Academy for Eating Disorders but don’t quote me on that. I’m not 100% sure. But basically it’s the nine truths about eating disorders, kind of clearing up a lot of the misconceptions and, um, which you know of course I’m assuming we’re going to talk about. So that’s kind of how I heard about this movie was they were in production of it and the cast was kind enough to record this PSA which then we were able to use around World Eating Disorder Day last year. So that was kind of my first introduction, you know, I didn’t know anything about the premise aside from that it was going to be about a girl recovering from anorexia.
Paige: Okay, so you’ve known about this for a while. That’s interesting. Because for me it’s just been the last few days.
Jennifer: Yeah, I have, but it kind of honestly fell off my radar and I kind of forgot about it and then when I saw the trailer pop up I was like, ‘Oh this is going a different direction than I guess I had anticipated.’
Paige: Okay, so what um...I think we’re going to get into...I really want to talk about twhat maybe you had in mind or what we see as a really useful, productive portrayal of a struggle with an eating disorder...
Paige: ...and I really want to get there, but let's talk first about kind of what alarmed you and what prompted you to write your ever so controversial article.
Paige: Um, we both write and so I know the feeling, you were telling me before we started recording, the feeling of ‘Oh, I’m just going to put this out there just like I do all these other articles and it’s no big deal’ and then all the sudden you get this big storm of ‘Thank you so much for writing this. This was amazing!’ And also the other end of the spectrum that’s like ‘You’re the worst person ever!’ (laughing)
Paige: ...like ‘How could you ever say this!’ you know, so it seems like this is a pretty divisive issue.
Jennifer: Yeah, it’s funny. Yeah, I guess this was yesterday morning I had just watched the trailer and then I guess you know how we all stumble into those like web spirals where you like start researching something. So I saw the trailer and started googling to find more out about the movie and I stumbled on some interviews with Lily Collins surrounding her role in the film and how she prepared for it.
Paige: I watched those too, so I yeah...I did the same internet dive. (laughing)
Jennifer: (laughing) Yeah...as soon as I saw that it was like something just clicked in me and I was like, I have to write about this and I sat down and I wrote this out and i'm just kind of put it out there and I was very surprised actually by the amount of buzz around both the trailer and the article that I wrote.
Paige: So, let’s describe the trailer for people. You know what, to be honest Jennifer I wanted to kind of like splice in umm, the sound so that people could know what we’re referring to but then I kind of thought, I don’t know if that’s A. Legal and B. Maybe responsible, right?
Paige: So let’s just kind of summarize for the sake of you know trying to be respectful of anyone listening who’s deep in the struggle. Let’s talk about what you see when you watch the trailer.
Jennifer: Sure. So I think what you see is I talk about in the article it opens with a girl who appears very frail and emaciated throughout the trailer with a plate of food kind of tallying calorie counts and her friend laughing and saying, ‘It’s like you have calorie Aspergers’ and that was the start of the trailer. And then from there it again continues to follow this girl who a lot of the focus is on her physical state, so we see her fainting, we see her bones in her back, and again just appearing very ill and emaciated. And it also depicts some different eating disorder behaviors, you know we talked about the calorie counting and other small things again I don’t necessarily want to trigger anyone by even mentioning them, but we see eating disorder behaviors and then we see the narrative of the protagonist repeating to herself “I have it under control.’ It was juxtaposed by showing you know this person reallys spiralling out of control in her eating disorder.
Paige: Right and umm then you know the...it’s important to mention that the reason we’re talking about the trailer is because the actual film isn’t out until like mid-July. So, we’re just you know...part of what feels a little bit maybe umm, I don’t know if unfair is the right word, but just a little bit tricky about talking about this before you actually give the film a chance and watch the whole thing, you know if kind of like, maybe the trailer...maybe the film is great! Maybe there’s a happy ending! You know and so why...I think that’s where some people are kind of are having issues is kind of like, ‘Just don’t watch it if you don’t like it’ and maybe it will show a positive story of recovery. You never know. So from a therapist who works with eating disorders perspective, what concerned you specifically and what prompted you to write the article?
Jennifer: Yeah, so I think like I mentioned, my first big concern was the press coverage surrounding the making of the movie. So Lily Collins is interviewed talking about basically you know how she herself as well as the person who directed and wrote the film, Marti Noxon both have past struggles with eating disorders and so Lily Collins says that she’s recovered from anorexia herself and then in the press interviews which again you know sometimes reporters can take things out of context or ask leading questions, but basically what she described is that she lost weight for the role in “the most healthy way possible with the help of a nutritionist.” She then goes on in some interviews to even detail what she ate and how they tried to keep it “as healthy as possible.” I’m not going to get into what that was because I think it’s just really inappropriate to talk about that as it could be too triggering, but I think the first thing that raised alarm bells for me was the idea that somebody first off can lose weight in a healthy way, but secondly, somebody who claims that they’ve recovered from anorexia is then giving the message to other people who are either struggling or in recovery that there is a way to healthfuly lose weight after having recovered from anorexia, which hearing that…
Paige: Right, and it’s clearly not like...yeah it sends the message of someone who is or who has struggled with anorexia like, ‘Oh it’s fine. You can continue those behaviors and you don’t have to count it as an eating disorder,’ sort of?
Jennifer: Yeah, I think what really bothered me was again so not only...so my perspective is there’s no such thing as purposeful, healthy weight loss for someone with a history of anorexia. So, because someone....
Jennifer: Yeah, they have underlying genetic and temperamental factors which we know, based on a ton of research can be activated by an energy deficit and weight loss regardless of what that person’s intention is, so you know I talk with clients about how you could get a stomach bug and have no appetite and lose weight and or even not lose weight and have no appetite and under eat for your energy needs and then that could reactivate your eating disorder voice to start to come backor to get louder.
Paige: You know what, I’ve seen that. I’ve seen that. I’ve had clients who have some unrelated like an injury or something happen like from post-surgery or something like that where it's totally unrelated and it that energy deficit triggers that really strong eating disorder voice that spirals them downward and sometimes it’s months and months and months to get out of you know.
Paige: You know something as simple as what you’re talking about here. SoIi think there’s people out there who have never really encountered eating disorders that they know of, you know…
Paige: ..and just kind of live throughout life thinking ‘Oh yeah, that’s just some people who struggle. Whatever. No big deal. I’m perfectly fine.’ And then they hear people like you or me say, ‘Whoa, this is problematic,’ and they automatically put up their defenses of, ‘Well isn’t this just shedding a light on an issue that people have? What’s so bad about you know the actress for her role losing weight to portray this character?’ And my response to that is kind of like, well she’s a human being and that’s...we have so much literature to backup the fact that that is truly dangerous and scary and out of a concern for her plus all the people looking on and kind of seeing what she’s doing, there’s also that concern as well.
Jennifer: Yeah. You raise some really good points. I think first off, I definitely when I heard that was concerned for her and her mental health and she did mention in interviews that actually gaining the weight back was challenging for her. She talked about that. Um, and so I know it’s hard for people who maybe don’t work with people with eating disorders or who have never encountered someone to really understand again like, ‘oh what’s the big deal. Like she lost weight for a role, whatever.’ But really that’s why I like to give the analogy that for somebody with a history of anorexia to lose weight or be in that energy deficit or to say they can “lose weight in a healthy way,” that’s like somebody with a history of alcoholism saying that they can drink in a healthy way or that they can just have a couple glasses of wine and they’ll be fine. But we all know how that story plays out and it’s just the same thing with someone with a history of anorexia saying, ‘Oh I'm just going to lose 5 pounds.’ They have a mental illness that is activated by energy deficit and by weight loss, again regardless of intentions. They are unable to do that and to embark on a fad diet or do some of these other things that people without eating disorders can do, which I don’t think they should do either.
Paige: Right, right. (laughing)
Jennifer: But I think...so that was my big concern about the press coverage and of course her detailing like what it meant to her what it meant to her to lose weight in a healthy way as someone with a history of anorexia. I mean that was incredibly troubling because there is nothing healthy about being under your set point weight, no matter how you do it. There’s just nothing healthy about that.
Paige: Yeah, and so for someone who’s listening who’s just like, ‘Gosh Jennifer and Paige. Why do you care about this actress? Just move on with your lives.’ What would you say to that?
Jennifer: Sure. I think it’s understandable that they would feel that way. I think I definitely have bias going into it because I see people in my office who you know could've lost their lives from these illnesses and I know that there are people who lose children. And I see everyday in my work with people how incredibly devastating and tragic eating disorders are and can be and also how much hope there is. So I think I’m really concerned with how eating disorders are portrayed when I know that other people and pellep who are vulnerable and susceptible might be inclined to watch this trailer and then to follow what Lily Collins is saying around the issue.
Paige: Yeah. No, that’s beautifully said and I think that the main point in this little segment about press coverage and about sort of just the trailer itself--what we’re seeing there--it’s just I think it’s important for people like you and me and others to have these conversations just to kind of get it out there that if you know, you’re watching this and you’re feeling some really intense feelings afterwards or if that eating disorder voice gets really loud and strong in your head to kind of start doing some of the behaviors you saw, that’s why we’re concerned. We want to kind of show a different side and say, ‘Hey this isn’t necessarily the most responsible way to portray eating disorders and you might want to think about skipping the film. If the trailer was that triggering for you, you know maybe just kind of take a break from watching that to make sure you’re protecting yourself and your own recovery process.’
Jennifer: Absolutely. I’ve already had comments from people on social media in recovery that watching the trailer was triggering to them and I would say the exact same thing. That it’s important to know whether something is strengthening your recovery or feeding your eating disorder and if you’re even questioning that I would error on the side of caution.
Paige: So, I did an episode a few weeks ago about the idea of triggering and I just want to bring that up here. Anyone who...I think it was a great conversation about that idea of when you feel triggered what can you do, what does it mean, how...what are some tools and some skills. I talked to umm an eating disorder therapist friend of mine who’s local in Salt Lake about that topic. So, that’s something to refer back to if you are kind of feeling in that heightened sense right now or that heightened state right now, that might be a good episode, a good reference for people. So, it’s something to think about.
Paige: Okay, so another problem that I have--and this is kind of on my mind a lot right not Jennifer--is the idea of umm...well let me tell you a story. So last...every single Wednesday I teach a group class in a local drug and alcohol rehab center and I teach about a wide variety of topics. One of the themes that always comes up though is eating disorders and I try to help create awareness around eating disorders in recovery from drugs and alcohol.
Jennifer: That’s awesome.
Paige: So last week, we talked about eating disorders for an hour and a half. It was awesome. This is one of my favorite favorite groups I do. I do a rotation. I asked the group, I said, ‘So when I say the phrase eating disorders, what comes to mind?’ They said it. The ticked off the ones we always think of when we’re thinking about eating disorders. They said ‘well a girl who’s young, who’s white, who’s privileged and who’s emaciated right?
Paige: And you know, I really think that’s such a narrow view of eating disorders and not to say that if someone listening hits all of those that there’s something wrong with you or bad about you. But I just feel like in 2017 we need to broaden what we’re talking about when it comes to eating disorders so that, you know I think oprah did a good job like in the 80’s or 90’s whenever she did those shows on...good job meaning she showed that type of body of someone who struggles right? She highlighted that, umm maybe not necessarily a good job in the conversation, but good job with helping people understand what anorexia nervosa sometimes looks like in thin white women right. But the idea is that eating disorders don’t discriminate you know. They...men have eating disorders. Older people can struggle. People of color can struggle. People of different sexualtiy can struggle right? So I just think that that was a bummer for me as I watched...and they even show little snips of her in a group setting sitting around with other people in treatment. It was just a bummer that there wasn't anyone in a larger body or with various skin colors you know? That was a bummer.
Jennifer: Yeah. Absolutely and again I think obviously we’re going to have to watch the movie and see because I have heard people have said that there is more diversity within the movie itself.
Paige: Okay, that’s good to know. I didn’t know that.
Jennifer: We’ll have to see. I think that was a concern of mine as well, in that this very much fits the narrative right, the stereotypical what someone with an eating disorder looks like. Again not to say that people you know...that’s it’s not okay for you to fit that mold and that’s perfectly fine, but I think it can unfortunately cause people who are men or who are in a larger body or who are of a diverse background or who are transgender or who you know don’t fit that narrow mold to feel like, well I can’t possibly have an eating disorder because I don’t look like that and…
Paige: You know what else Jennifer? This is something I feel super passionately about because a lot of my clients that I work with on like a weekly basis don’t fit that mold and when they open up to a coworker and say, ‘Hey I just want you to know I really struggle with...I’m really struggling with an eating disorder,’ and when that co-worker says,’Wait, you?’ and looks them up and down and says, ‘You’re not even thin.’ You know.
Paige: When that happens, that is heartbreaking and just so demoralizing for that person. The people watching who are struggling who say ‘Oh I don’t fit in that mold,’ that’s damaging and something we don’t really want to do but also I think the people watching who don’t necessarily identify as struggling in that way, but they’re sort of subconsciously getting an education about what eating disorders are so when they walk throughout life and look around at the people around them, they’re sort of looking for that one type of person that they can say, ‘Oh yeah. That’s someone who has an eating disorder.’ And when their co-worker confides, they’re super confused because they aren’t aware that someone could look differently than that and struggle or be a different age or different gender, right?
Jennifer: Absolutely. I agree with that 100%. I think another thing that’s really concerning is when you think about it, something else that I’m really passionate about that we kind of touched on, you know aside from the fact that--well this is part of the fact that eating disorders don’t discriminate--is actually the weight piece. In the sense that there’s this belief that to have an eating disorder adn to have anorexia is to appear highly emaciated or even thin when the reality is that eating disorders can affect people of all shapes and sizes even restrictive eating disorders and I think when you really think about it, the fact that Lily Collins who already is in a smaller body felt that--or whoever--her team felt that she needed to lose even more weight and to be even smaller to portray somebody with an eating disorder is troubling in and of itself, you know. That perpetuates the myth that in order to convincingly seem like I’m somebody who’s struggling with anorexia, I have to look like I’m on death's door and again while there are certainly people who look like that, you know both you and I have seen in our practice there are plenty of people with anorexia even not even talking about the other eating disorders who are in all different types of bodies.
Paige: Definitely. Definitely. And that’s something I think a lot of people don’t understand. And maybe it’s important to just say outright, like you can struggle with anorexia specifically yeah…
Paige: ...and not to mention the other ones and be in any type of body you know?
Jennifer: Yeah. Exactly.
Paige: You really...that’s an important thing that kind of blows people’s minds sometimes.
Jennifer: Yeah. Because I think again it’s this narrative of, yeah, anorexia having that one look that was popularized, through the media, of people who appear incredibly emaciated and it’s not only do you not have to appear emaciated, you don’t have to appear thin, you don’t have to you know...there’s just...there’s no one way that people with eating disorders look and you really cannot tell who has an eating disorder based on their physical appearance. Again, it’s one of the only mental illnesses where we judge someone’s level of suffering by their physical appearance and also even in the recovery narrative where it’s very much defined by you know weight restoration--like people showing the before and after pictures of them in recovery when again it’s one of the few mental illnesses where the physical piece is highlighted. And while there are obviously serious physical health complications with eating disorders and you know part of the treatment is going to be nutritional rehabilitation, there’s also so many mental factors, right, that I think when we boil eating disorders down to you know being solely about wight and the body--like that’s an aspect of it but there’s a lot of other things going on
Paige: Well, and when we do that we only give those things more power and perpetuate the very struggle that we’re trying to work on, don’t you think? Like when you....
Paige: ...make it about the body then it just becomes so much more difficult to make it not about the body in order to recover.
Jennifer: Yeah, and I think it’s again that...so I’m really into dialectical behavioral therapy so it’s the dialectic of two truths. So yes, my first line of approach for treatment of somebody, you know, with a restrictive eating disorder who’s below their set point is that, you know, restoring weight and nutritional restoration because there’s not a lot of work you can do with malnourished brain and that’s only the surface, right. That’s the start. I mean obviously treatment goes far beyond that. That’s just kind of the starting off point. So yes, I think it’s important to highlight that like eating disorders maniest often with a fixation on food and body and there’s a lot of underlying components that contribute to it. First off, underlying genetic factors, temperamental factors, psychological factors, and I think that was something else that felt problematic about the trailer to me is the line of ‘I have it under control’ insinuating that you know this eating disorder was this person’s way of feeling in control which again i see some with some clients however that’s not getting beneath the surface of really their genetic roots to this illness and temperamental factors and psychological factors. My concern is somebody watching the trailer might think, oh yeah it’s just another girl, wants to be thin, wants to feel in control, took it too far, and not recognizing the gravity that like eating disorders aren’t a choice and nobody would choose to suffer the way that people with eating disorders do and that people can’t just eat or snap their fingers and just gain weight and everything’s fine.
Paige: Yeah, great point. Great point. So, let’s just do a few minutes of trying to kind of anticipate where someone who has a different opinion might come down on our opinions. Umm, so there’s...in other words, I just kind of want to look at this from the other side and just try to do a fair job of showing you know different opinions and maybe talking those through so that anyone listening who’s like, ‘These two chicks are crazy! Why are they talking about it like this?’ I just want to answer some of those questions before we finish. So, what about the idea that this potentially could help to create more awareness around eating disorders. What would you...what do you think about that Jennifer?
Jennifer: So I’m always happy when eating disorders are part of the public conversation, and I think it’s definitely possible that--again, things aren’t all good or all bad and I work to get clients away from that line of thinking. It’s not black and white.
Paige: Yes! It’s so true! It’s so important.
Jennifer: Yeah, so I do think the makers of the film were very well intentioned. I hope that it will have some positive impacts of raising awareness. And I am still very concerned you know, it does go against best practices for treating eating disorders in the sense of showing eating disorder behaviors in detail and showing images of emaciation. We know that that is very triggering to people in recovery.
Paige: So I would love to hear what your idea of you know how to portray an eating disorder without being triggering. Is there a way to do that?
Jennifer: This is where I have so much compassion for the makers of the film because I think it is a very tricky area to navigate. Honestly I feel that a lot of the memoirs, like when we think about Wasted an eating disorder memoir that was written a while back. Anything that’s going into specifics about a struggle with an eating disorder I feel can easily turn into a how to manual for people who are not in a good place. So in my sense, probably the only way to really do it in a way that’s truly responsible and again it’s hard to seperate that out because everyone has different triggers, umm but I guess my sense would be maybe focusing a lot less on the struggle and more on the recovery piece would be one way to do that. And being a lot more vague about the symptoms, which again does not make for great television or for a great movie, but maybe a narrative that focused more on the recovery aspect and the challenges like challenging herself with certain foods rather than starting with the descent and showing symptoms.
Paige: Yeah, it’s definitely a fine line to walk and you know when you start asking questions like ‘Hey but doesn’t this create awareness?’ and ‘What could they have done differently?’ you sort of kind of ...it is easy to just sigh and just say you know what, I can totally understand where someone’s coming from when there isn’t necessarily this freedom to just do things exactly the way you’d want to because maybe there’s pressure from the production company and there's obviously you want to make it entertaining and you want to keep people engaged and you want to catch attention. I mean there’s all of things. So yeah, I definitely agree with you. It’s a tricky balance and definitely the filmmakers likely had the very best of intentions.
Jennifer: Yeah. and I think it is really tough again to navigate and there have been some comparisons to 13 Reasons Why, the other Netflix series that really talked about teen suicide and showed some really graphic scenes and I think it’s really looking at where do we draw the line between glorifying an illness. Seeing it as dramatic and cool and really depicting some graphic things versus again you know telling a story. I think it’s a really tough balance to find.
Paige: Oh for sure. Yes and you know what, it’s even a tough balance to just talk about too, you know? And that’s where I have some experience and where I’ve likely you know not done everything perfectly along the way with the podcast. It’s like you want to help people understand that hope is possible. YOu want to spread awareness about disordered eating and eating disorders and it is a fine line to walk where you’re helping someone really understand where the person talking is coming from and where they’ve been and just the depth of their struggle. But at the same time you don’t want it to become a how to manual or a glorification of that type of struggle and i feel for them because that is a tricky balance.
Jennifer: Absolutely and I think part of the real outrage, again the trailer maybe the movie is different because it was a short snippet but I think there are some general--while there is a lot of the ambiguity and grayness around sharing recovery stories responsibly--I think there are also some general guidelines…
Jennifer:...that have kind of been a consensus that telling people’s lowest weight is generally not...is going to be very triggering for people. Any wight talk, any numbers, calories, that kind of talk and any like pictures of emaciation and we look at the trailer...
Paige: And it’s all of that.
Jennifer: ...and all of those things were very touched on. So I think that’s part of the outrage.
Paige: Yeah. Yep. So what about the idea from another way to look at it being like, ‘Well if you don’t like it just don’t watch it Jennifer or Paige.’ (laughing)
Jennifer: (laughing) Yeah, umm and again it’s tough because I think that people yes, they always have the choice of what to watch and while we can’t eliminate all triggers in our environment. So we also have to know for us what is a trigger and set boundaries around that. I also think part of what’s so hard for me to wrap my head around is the sense that you know, again this was created with some really good intentions and that there are other organizations that are--and I don’t want to name names--that I really respect actually that are supporting the film, which is understandable. But I think it’s a tough balance again to look at this group and you know this actress and this director who personally struggled who really want to help this population of people in recovery, but actually the population they’re trying to help are people who should not watch the film if that makes sense.
Jennifer: So I think that’s a tough balance to kind of navigate in the sense of yes, there are plenty of people who could maybe watch this movie and have no genetic predisposition and not be triggered at all. However, the people with the genetic predisposition--in my opinion--should not watch, from what I’ve seen. I don’t think it would be helpful.
Paige: Well, also another thing that concerns me and I’m a parent of young children who obviously don’t have free reign of that type of thing on Netflix, but you know just the idea of a child or teenager coming across that and watching that without their parents knowing. You know, I never struggled with an eating disorder, but I did read magazines back in the day (laughing) when there weren’t all kinds of other things to do online and stuff. I remember being very drawn and very intrigued by some of those articles that really talk about people getting really deep into those types of struggles and being a little bit fascinated on a sick...almost like a scary level you know even though I do not have the genetic predisposition for it, but I can see how you know a vulnerable young mind who’s kind of thinking, ‘Ugh, I wish I could look like her’ or that’s not always what triggers an eating disorder. It’s not always a body image concern. It’s not always a food thing. It’s not always an in control thing. Every eating disorder looks differently and I don’t mean to generalize here but I’m just kind of trying to get at the idea that a vulnerable young mind...someone who just wants to fit in and reading a story or seeing something portrayed about how someone lost a significant amount of weight could trigger some of that in a person you know?
Jennifer: Yeah. 100%. Because again like we’ve been saying throughout this conversation, eating disorders are triggered by genetic factors, by temperamental factors, certain personality traits as well, as well as psychological factors you know like struggling to regulate emotions, trauma histories, all of that. And those things have to be present, but then they’re triggered by environmental stressors which could be a diet. The statistic is one in four people who diet go on to develop an eating disorder. Or it could be you know watching something like this. So it’s not saying that this alone would cause an eating disorder, but you know i think especially for parents, I think it's very scary the thought of a vulnerable child like hearing that and just thinking about that just really terrifies me that this could trigger somebody and again and with some of those genetic and temperamental and psychological underpinnings could go on to develop an eating disorder. I mean that is very scary to me.
Paige: Yeah. I mean so scary and how many people have you seen in your office who expressed this just deep feeling of ‘I just wish that I never went on that diet’ or ‘I wish I never read that book.’ It’s not to blame those one thing because like you said it’s multifactorial. It’s complicated. Developing an eating disorder is never due to just one thing.
Paige: But there is this often...this sentiment often expressed of just, ‘Gosh if I hadn’t done that one thing I really don’t think I would have gone off the edge,’ so to speak, you know?
Jennifer: Yeah and again it’s like we said it’s not one thing, however if you don’t have the environmental stressors sometimes the genes and underlying factors aren’t activated. So again, it’s tough to blame one thing because you know it’s not. It’s a variety of factors and I have seen people though in my office because I always do get a history from people and I like to dive deep and ask them in my assessment about starting back from their first memories of food and their relationship to their body and getting into...almost everyone I see in my practice has struggled with an eating disorder, disordered eating, or body image stuff. Often there are some environmental stressors that again activate the genes and the psychological factors. So somebody for instance telling me that they had a family member that showed them how to purge or things of that nature, so it is really scary like seeing that this is out there. Honestly as a therapist it really terrifies me for my clients.
Paige: Right, right. That’s so true and you just you have you know, people in your mind you are real people who you just care about and you know that oh my goodness this is not going to be good for them. Yeah. That’s part of that outrage that you can feel. Just that level of protection and sort of like ‘Oh why! Why couldn’t we have done it in a different way,’ you know.
Jennifer: Yeah, and again you can say like don’t watch it and everyone has this personal responsibility, but you’re taking a group of people who are very vulnerable often who struggle with you know...I think we all struggle with wanting to fit it, right, with wanting to feel liked. I think that’s human nature. And so around you is going to be all of these people discussing it once the movie is released--especially with someone in recovery you’re going to want to give your two cents on the issue, so I can see how it would be really hard for people not to watch it.
Paige: Right, right. And you know I feel like we need to say this, that we’re having this conversation about a movie that we haven’t seen and I recognize that that’s a little bit funny and silly sometimes, but to me what we’re doing here is we’re having….it’s not really about this film because we haven’t seen it. You know maybe it’ll surprise us. Maybe it’ll be really just awesome with like a few little things we’d change or something like that and I’m open to that being a possibility. But to me, the reason I wanted to talk to you today Jennifer is...have this broader conversation around you know media and around portrayal of eating disorders and around how each of us can kind of stay in our own power as we’re navigating like all of this stuff around us that like could potentially be triggering or difficult to deal with and just make this conversation around how to be responsible consumer of media given what you’re previous or current struggles might be. Does that make sense?
Jennifer: Absolutely. Yeah. And I think I am thankful in a sense that this trailer has come out and prompted this larger discussion. I think that’s something positive that’s come out if it right?
Jennifer: That it’s given me a platform to write on Huffington Post about a lot of these eating disorder myths and that people are actually interested in reading it because it’s tied to something that’s trending so think that’s a great opportunity to try to educate and bring awareness. I also would encourage--you know you mentioned an episode that people can go listen to which I think is great--I would encourage somebody if they are in recovery from eating disorder to really sit down with their therapist or somebody in their treatment team and look at like spell out for themselves like what are some of the things that...because again, everyone’s eating disorder is unique and everyone’s triggers are going to be different and unique. So writing down specifically for them, you know what some of their biggest triggers are that make the eating disorder voice scream louder and what are some coping strategies they can use, because again we can’t eliminate all triggers in life and maybe things they could look at setting boundaries around or people they can set boundaries with and then the last piece of that would be positive things they can add in. So if we’re going to be setting boundaries, trying to reduce triggers or learn how to manage them as they come up. Also looking at how can I counter-condition myself and surround myself with people, messaging via social media, podcasts like yours, and so that I’m constantly getting these pro-recovery body positive messages, because again you know we’re surrounded by diet culture messages all day long and so some of that can obviously feed the eating disorder voice, so also looking at some positive things they can add in I think would be helpful.
Paige: Love it! Love it! Yeah, that’s kind of where I was going next Jennifer. Do you have anything you’d like to kind of say in conclusion or just to summarize or in addition to what you’ve already said?
Jennifer: Sure. I mean I think the biggest message that I want to get across is that if you suspect that you might be struggling with an eating disorder or a disordered relationship with food or to your body regardless of what you look like, how old you are, how you identify in terms of gender, your ethnicity, your background, your weight, umm if even part of you thinks that there might be a chance you’re struggling I really encourage you to reach out for help. No one should have to struggle with this alone and there’s so much hope. You know I see it every day with people making progress in their recovery and you know, even fully recovering from their eating disorders--which is completely possible. So I think again the biggest message is just urging people to seek help because I really think that is a sign of strength and also you know if you don’t have an eating disorder, really examining maybe some personal biases you might have picked up through the media and try to be open so if someone does come to you and says, ‘Hey I might be struggling,’ taking that seriously, you know no matter what they look like or whether they meet your description of an eating disorder or not, like...
Jennifer: ...really understanding that they are struggling.
Paige: Right. And everyone listening knows someone who has an eating disorder. Like I feel comfortable saying that (laughing)
Paige: Unless you just stay in your house all day and have zero friends…(laughing)
Paige: ...umm, no really though. I think we’re all going to come across someone who’s struggling and when that person opens up to us, it’s so important to recognize that eating disorders don’t look just one way and so, take them seriously. Believe them. That’s a really, really important thing that I just see makes people spiral downward when someone doesn’t believe them or looks them up and down and says, ‘You?’
Paige: That’s a really tricky thing that makes me so sad when I hear that.
Jennifer: Yeah and I think on that note, just highlighting again that eating disorders are mental illnesses. So, it doesn’t matter what your physical state is. It doesn’t matter if your labs came back normal. It doesn’t matter if the doctor says your at a healthy weight, whatever the heck that even means. I think if you’re mentally struggling with constant thoughts about food and your body, with an obsession or fixation with food, with anxiety and guilt around food, like with any of these eating disorder behaviors, I think it’s so important to reach out for help.
Paige: Very well said. That is so true and that requires a lot of honesty about where your thoughts are and what your saying to yourself in your own head and that requires some honesty and some introspection but I think it’s totally worth it because it’s not...you know you may look and “act” umm “healthy” to the rest of the world, but if that’s where your head is at, no matter what your body looks like that’s not healthy and you need some help.
Jennifer: Yeah, and that again...there is freedom from this. You don’t have to struggle for the rest of your life.
Paige: Yay! Yes, yes. Okay, Jennifer I want to have you take a minute and tell everybody listening how they can keep in touch with you because you’re just fantastic and so fun to follow on social media…
Jennifer: Aww, thank you.
Paige: and your articles are so just awesome and timely. So, yeah. Take a minute to tell everybody.
Jennifer: Yeah. No, I appreciate that and I love following you on social media as well and seeing all your content. The best way to connect with me is through my website. It’s www.jenniferrollin.com. My email and phone number is listed on there, so that’s the best way.
Paige: And you do distance coaching as well, right?
Jennifer: Yeah, so I have a private therapy practice in Rockville, MD serving people in the D.C./Maryland area and then I also work with people for recovery coaching. If they have an eating disorder, I require they are meeting with a therapist as well and that’s via phone and skype.