- Sara Mann
My Thoughts on 'To The Bone'......
I am going to be talking about the movie in its entirety so if you don’t want any part of it spoiled then please watch it before you read this! This post also might be triggering as I'm going to be talking about behaviors
and my own experience while Anorexic, so proceed mindfully :)
This past week Netflix released a new movie called To The Bone. Multiple people have written to me asking if I have seen it, what my thoughts are on it and if I will blog about it. So, I decided to watch it and offer my perspective of it as a recovering anorexic.
This movie has created a lot of controversy. I guess that’s good considering part of the goal was for it to start dialogue about eating disorders. They can check that box as accomplished! There are a lot of opinions about the movie. Should they have let the actress lose all that weight. Is it triggering for those with an Eating Disorder or recovering from one? Does it portray eating disorders in a real way? Does it glorify eating disorders and make people want to have one? Is it realistic? Are the therapists treatment methods good or bad? Should there be a movie about this at all? I could literally go on for five pages about all the things I have read about this movie, but since you are reading my blog, I’m going to dive into my opinion about the movie. The good, the bad, the realistic and the unrealistic!
When I first heard about To The Bone, I was definitely intrigued. This movie is about an Anorexic and I obviously am currently recovering from Anorexia, so who better to watch it then me! Many people warned me about possible triggers and what the media was saying about it. Some were worried that it might cause me to struggle or hinder my recovery if I watch it, and others thought it was SO good I should watch it ASAP.
I decided to watch it for myself and by myself. My recovery is my own. I own it. I don’t put myself in positions that would hinder it and if I do I make sure I have support ready in case something does come up. My support group new I was watching it and so did a few other people. This way, if something went wrong, I could simply reach out and all is well.
I actually had high hopes for the movie! My highest hope was that this movie would portray eating disorders in a real way. That it would shed new light on the mental illness and what it may be like to suffer from one as well as recover from it. That it could be something I point my family and friends to in order to better understand what I’m going through. So, last Sunday, I sat down, turned on Netflix and watched.
Since I have never reviewed anything before I’m not really sure how to do it, so I’m just going to make a list of the things I noticed, agreed with, disagreed with, related to etc. These are in no specific order and they don’t cover every single little thing about the movie. They are just things I jotted down and that stood out to me while I watched.
-One of the things that I loved about the movie was that they really, in my opinion, show that eating disorders, specifically Anorexia in this case, are not about the food. Yes, Eli struggled with eating the food, but the movie did show that Anorexia is a coping mechanism to deal with anxiety, stress and life. You see this in the scene where they are having a family therapy session. They argue and were emotional and it was obvious her family situation is very messy. How did she deal with the crazy therapy session? Anorexic behaviors. She didn’t eat dinner. She did sit-ups in bed. She measured her arms. This is how she dealt with the chaos of her family. This is actually dead on. Anorexia was a way for me to cope with and deal with anxiety and problems. If something bad happened, I would concentrate on my weight, my measurements, my calories etc. It calms, it controls, it feels better then having to feel the pain or emotion of real life. One of the hardest parts about recovery is the fact that our main coping mechanism is taken away, leaving us to deal head on with the actual issues we have as well as coming out of the mental illness of an eating disorder.
-The scene where they are having group therapy I found to also be pretty dead on! You do not talk numbers, weight, calories, etc. It can be triggering to other people in the group. You hold each other accountable, encourage each other, but it’s also a pretty strict place to share. It is a lot of, how did that make you feel, talk. Highs and lows.
-I noticed the entire movie that Eli wore baggy clothes and a lot of layers. This was also very true for me. I wore baggy clothes a lot to hide my body. I also wore a lot of layers because I was constantly cold.
-Eli was obsessive about doing sit ups all the time. She ran up and down the stairs. She wanted to walk/run everywhere just to burn calories. I 100% related to this. I would exercise all of the time, even if it hurt, even if it caused bruises. I could not do sit-ups without a pad down because of my spine and rib bones. It was painful. I would purposely park far away in order to be able to walk more. I would run up and down my stairs after lunch to burn it off. It was mind numbing as well as helped to give the eating disorder what it wanted.
-I thought when Eli was told she has, "counting calories aspergers," it was funny/offenisive. On the one hand, it is very true. I wrote a blog a while back about counting calories (find it here) and how I was basically a mathematical genius when it came to counting calories. It’s true. When you are anorexic, you count calories. You know the calories in every single food and yes, even things that are not “food.” On the other hand, I care greatly for people with aspergers and I would hate that this joke was made at their expense. That part seemed wrong.
-It seemed in this movie that many people were very worried about her. Did they go about it in the best way, not really... Were they completely messed up themselves, definitely. However, they cared enough to let her know she looked terrible and unhealthy. They were invested in her recovery in the way that they kept getting her help and showed up for meetings. I have found, that in real life this is often not the case. I asked a few of my friends who are recovering and they said this was not the case for them. In my personal life it also was not the case. At my thinnest I maybe had two people say something to me about my weight. Everyone just seemed to ignore it or talk to each other about it, but not to me. Maybe I would get some passive comment about how thin I was, but no one would directly ask me if I was ok and say I need help. I found out after starting recovery how many people questioned my weight, my exercise habits, my eating, how terrible I looked and scary thin I was, but none of them had said anything. I know that everyone has there reasons why they didn’t say anything, or push me to get help, but I often wonder if this would have been different had I been pushed and supported much earlier. This was actually the most triggering part of the movie for me. Even throughout recovery it has continued to be a very isolating process. She seemed to have good support and this is not always the case.
-During the scene where Eli's step mom weighs her, a lot of memories came flooding back to me. Making sure the scale was a certain way. Stepping on it the same way every time. Small little behaviors and rituals that MUST take place when weighing myself. It's terrifying and a true form of torture for an anorexic.
-Eli, when questioned about there health, said, “I’ve got it under control.” I felt the same way. It’s like I knew I had a problem, but I also thought I had it under control. You never think you are as ill as you actually are, and its scary. I would tell myself I'm just good ad dieting, or I'm not sick enough. Death doesn’t seem all the terrible. You already aren’t feeling much because of the malnutrition and the brain space being occupied by an ED. The hard part is its dangerous and we are NOT in control, the Eating Disorder is.
-One of the things that bothered me about the movie was that it fed into the stereo type that every anorexic near death is in the 80 pound range. This is actually no where near true. I thought that they had an opportunity to show that many people suffering from anorexia actually look very normal and are not underweight. I also worry that anyone who is currently anorexic will believe they are not “sick” enough because they are not as thin as this girl or don’t eat as little as her. This is a very true thing that happens and it’s terrible. Again, people can be very ill and not that thin. (I wrote a blog about this here)
-I related to the part where she would not take antidepressant because they could possibly make her gain weight. When I first entered treatment and multiple time throughout, I have been extremely depressed. I met with many doctors and all recommended I try an antidepressant. I refused and it was simply because they could not guarantee that I would not gain weight on it. I will write about antidepressants in a another post, but I 100% would not take them, even with suicidal thoughts, because of the potential weight gain.
-I loved that the therapist in the movie said there is not one reason that an eating disorder happens. I think a lot of people want to know what causes an eating disorder and the reality is there isn’t really one thing and its different from person to person. It is a lot of little things. It’s genetics, environment, anxiety, coping and more. I’ll write more on this another time.
-I found it funny when the Eli's mom wanted to tell the therapist and the inpatient home staff all the things she knows and why this happened etc. People always think they now more then the doctor or the professional and it is annoying. They also think they can decide why the eating disorder happened and I’ve found that most are way off. I know exactly what caused my eating disorder and most people want to blame it on something else.
-My heart broke for the girl who had a miscarriage, but I thought it did shed light on something that isn’t really talked about a lot. When you suffer from anorexia you typically lose your period. They said that she got one period and got pregnant and it was like a miracle. This is true. Hormones get really messed up when you are starving... Most woman lose their periods when they struggle with anorexia. Being healthy enough to carry a pregnancy is very difficult. Some become infertile. It is a very real consequence to anorexia. In my last post I briefly discussed how this has also effected me.
-I loved when they said that talking about food is boring and not helpful. The reason why is because again, it’s not about the food. There is a reason why at the treatment center I go to, the dietician will not work with you unless you are actively and weekly seeing a therapist. It’s because, it’s not about the food! The food restriction and control is a behavior used to maintain the eating disorder, which is happening for reasons determined in therapy.
-I did like that the movie showed all different races and genders. There is this idea that only rich white teenage girls have eating disorders. Its actually far from the truth. Men do, older woman do, no race is exempt.
-When Luke said he has goals coming out the wazoo I laughed. Goals are crucial to recovery, but there are a LOT of them. You have calorie goals, emotional goals, social goals, food goals, fear goals, self care goals, therapy goals, mental goals, weight goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, recovery goals, I could go on. I also feel like I too, have goals coming out my wazoo haha
-Another thing I saw was the competitiveness between Eli and the other girl at treatment. One asked how many inpatients she had done and the other responded with even more. This is a very real thing. It’s why people don’t talk numbers and details very often. For some reason it gets competitive. I’ll give a real life example. I met a girl once and she found out I was recovering from anorexia because I had entered it as a prayer request. After the prayer meeting she approached me and told me she too has recovered from an eating disorder. I proceeded to give her the details of what happened to me (thinking I’m not in group therapy so sharing numbers would be fine) but then found her immediately trying to outdo me with her own story and numbers. It was annoying. "I got down to 112 pounds…" "ya, well mine was so bad I got down to 98." This is real. It happens.
-F$&k Fault - excuse my language but I LOVE this scene. Mostly because it is so true. I think in recovery we are constantly trying to figure out why this happened. Who’s fault is it? We sometimes find who or what is responsible and why, but at the end of the day does it matter? It might help us understand more about the why, and come up with ways to deal, but in my opinion at the end of the day I’m going to move forward and recover no matter who’s fault it was. I learn from it, set boundaries etc. Whoever and whatever is at fault for our eating disorder has nothing to do with recovering. I recover because I need too and because I want to be a healthy, whole, person. Not because I found where the fault lies. I think fault give some sort of closure to the why, but in my opinion sitting in a mindset of fault keeps me bound to my eating disorder.
-“F$&k you voice!” - I LOVE this too. I’ve talked many times about the ED voice in our heads. It is ugly and mean and needs to be told to “F” OFF. I remember the first time I started exercising again in treatment. The voice was loud and said nasty stuff. My therapist taught me basically the same thing the therapist in the movie did, tell if to "F OFF" and go sit in the corner because I am moving my body and doing just fine. I am in control, it is not. Go away and leave me alone. This language isn't the best, but to be honest, its needed. When you are constantly controlled by this inner voice telling you how disgusting you are, controlling what you eat and do and say, it DOES need to be told to take a hike. Getting angry at this voice and telling it to go away was the first steps that I took to separate my healthy self from my eating disorder self. It is crucial for recovery in my opinion.
-I love the scene where they go to the water art. (Is that what it was?) The reason I like it was because to me it seemed like the therapist was trying to get them to feel again. Anorexia is a very numbing mental illness. It keeps us from feeling. Its SO rare to feel joy or anything really at all.
-The meal time at the treatment center is not realistic at all. The getting up from the table and eating what you want is definitely a no go. At my group we are expected to finish the meal in it’s entirety. We can’t get up and just leave. We check in before we eat, set a goal, eat and then check in after we eat as well. The one true thing was that we do not go to the bathroom after a meal alone.
-I didn’t go to inpatient so I don’t have an opinion as to how realistic the inpatient home was in the movie. I do know some parts are dead on and others are WAY off. If you have gone to inpatient I would love to hear your thoughts on this!
-Weigh-ins…..they are, THE WORST. I use to have to do bi-weekly weigh ins and it was always terrifying. It was triggering and not fun. I have always done blind weight ins, which has helped my recovery tremendously. There is a lot of controversy about whether people should be doing blind weigh-ins or see their weight. I’m on the blind weigh-in side of the argument. We have enough to overcome. Also, if I know my weight it is VERY hard for me to eat. I have to learn to eat by listening to my body, not by knowing a number.
-I worry about the actress being so thin. I know I know, she is an actress, but it’s still very dangerous and unhealthy. It’s also unrealistic. We didn’t lose the weight with a nutritionist and gain it back super easy. The weight loss and regaining is HELL. I fear that people will think regaining the weight like she has is how it really works. It does not. It is much more difficult in real anorexia recovery.
-The movie does contain a lot of things that can be triggering and not beneficial to someone trying to recover. Look, its the truth. During the movie girls discuss tips on how to keep their eating disorder going. It didn’t bother me too much because I had done them all, but if there is a girl out there suffering from anorexia and she never thought to use laxatives, now she knows. It’s a difficult decision I think the producers have to make. Do you include this sort of stuff in the movie because it DOES happen, or do you leave it out because you don’t want to propitiate more eating disorders and help people suffering with new tricks? Again, for me, this goes back to, if you think it will be triggering, don’t watch it. I'm thankfully in a place where I remembered doing all of those things, but have no desire to go back to them. If I was watching this early in my recovery it would have been a very bad idea.
-I hated the fact that they didn’t show the actual recovery process. It is very typical of a movie to go from the worst and then skip to the best. Oh wow! She has hit rock bottom and now has decided to recover for real….end of movie. It was funny. When I was at my support group last week we were talking about it and we started to laugh because we said, where is the part in recovery where she overshot her weight? Where is the swelling and the reflux and the pain? They didn't show how you are crying in bed because it’s so hard for YEARS. Where you are facing every issue you have, dead on, with anxiety and stress without your main way of dealing. You don’t just go from underweight to beautiful again. Its a very long and difficult process, in which they showed none of and for me, it was disappointing. There are already a ton of movies and documentaries about being anorexic. I’m waiting for the one that actually shows recovery and how hard it is. It was nice to see her recovered in that one scene, but realistically that kind of recovery takes years, very hard work, a lot of money and it is very painful.
-In the movie the main star, Eli, had to hit rock bottom before she was willing to step up and go all in for recovery. I found this to be true in my case as well. I don’t think you will recover unless you want to recover. It is too hard to do it you don't want to do it. It was obvious that until she wanted to she was going to continue to do the behaviors and fully engage with her eating disorder. You have to decide for yourself if you want to recover. Once you do, you can go for it, but until you do, it won’t work. It took me seven years and being near death to decide to recover, but once I decided to go for it, I did.
-Some people didn’t like the therapists methods - I thought they were fine. They are actually very similar to my own therapy sessions so I had no problem with them.
-If you are afraid this will be triggering, simply don’t watch it. IT’s ok! You don’t have to! I don’t watch scary movies because they make me scared. It’s ok not to watch an ED movie because it won’t be healthy for you. I DID find many things in this movie to be triggering for me and I have had to work through them since watching it. I have enough support and coping skills at this point that I'm confident in where I'm at, but if you don't, don't watch it!
-They entire movie Eli seemed like she was emotionless and out of it. This is also very true to what it is like to be anorexic. Our brains aren’t working right. They are starving. Our bodies are slow and lethargic. I honestly can barely remember things during the seven years that I starved. It’s like one large fog.
-I think that if you are not currently suffering from an eating disorder this movie would not make you want to have one. One of the accusations being thrown around is that it glorifies anorexia. I couldn’t disagree more. This did not breeze over it or act like it was cool or great. It was obvious that anorexia is painful, hard, not fun, effects your health, effects those you love and is not something you want to do.
-There are little tid bits all throughout the movie that if you are recovering are kind of funny! When they cheers with Ensure drinks at the baby shower. When they smell the candy wrapper. The one girl was eating peanut butter all the time. I have never met a dietician that doesn’t love peanut butter haha.
So, after that long list, what did I think? Well, for as much hype as this movie received, after watching it, I thought, thats it? THIS is what is causing all the controversy? I actually felt a bit let down. I had all this hope about it and in the end I kind of felt it failed to deliver. This could possibly be because it’s just not that shocking to me. I live this daily. It is a full part of my life. All of the behaviors and emotions were relatable to me. I think if I wasn’t currently recovering it would be a lot more shocking and intriguing, but it wasn’t! My husband also sat down and watched it and had a similar reaction to it. He liked it, but didn't think it was anything new or crazy. He saw how it related to my time as an anorexic and he was disappointed it didn't show what recovery is like. It's everything leading up to deciding to recover, and then ends.
All in all I thought the movie was ok. It wasn’t great and it wasn’t bad. I would give it 7 out of 10 stars. I related to most of it, but was also disappointed by it. I didn’t find it to be earth shattering or anything new. There were things I thought were really great and things I thought were way off. In the end, it’s just a movie. I’m glad they made it. If it brings new light and new conversation about anorexia and eating disorders then that makes me happy! If it helps someone decide to recover, that also makes me happy! If it helps others learn how to support someone or identify that someone is struggling with an eating disorder, again, I’ll be happy!
No movie is perfect. No movie will show the entirety of what it is like to suffer from Anorexia. Do I see how some things in it can be controversial, sure! Do I wish it showed the recovery process, definitely! Did it do a good job of showing the beginning stages of recovery and what its like to be anorexic, in it's own way and for one person, yes! Did it achieve all of my wildest dreams and highest hopes, nope! In the end I’m glad I watched it so that I could form my own opinion on it. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it as well so comment or write to me!!
- Sara -