In our previous post we discussed a variety of reasons that individuals with eating disorders, especially those in the early stages of recovery, may choose not to watch the Netflix film To The Bone or other films they know could create roadblocks in their continued recovery.
With that said, triggering media has always been around and will always be a part of our society so it’s helpful to know how to navigate it. Many individuals in long-term recovery or later stages of treatment might feel prepared to watch a film or read a book about eating disorders, despite triggering content. Many of our clinicians have helped to shape such exposure into therapeutic experiences for patients who are ready. For example, during periods of strong recovery, seeing a film like To The Bone can be an opportunity to reflect on one’s own experience, see things from a new perspective, process lingering eating disorder thoughts or channel anger towards the eating disorder in productive ways.
If you’ve considered all of the options and decide you do want to watch a film about eating disorders, these are a few things to consider that can help you do so in safe and productive ways.
Don’t watch alone. Watch with a support person you can trust and communicate openly with them about how it is impacting you in the moment. You might even consider pausing the show periodically to breathe, reflect and talk.
Time it right. Only watch it when you know you’ll be attending a therapy session or support group within a few days so you can explore your reactions and get help challenging any distorted thoughts or concerns about what you see on screen. If you currently have a lot of other life stressors or you’re in a time of transition (moving, starting school, going through a divorce, etc.) you may want to consider waiting to watch until things settle down.
Challenge the ED thoughts. Consider journaling about aspects of the movie that you find triggering and then refute and challenge the inaccurate, negative or distorted thoughts.
Be an activist. Write a letter to the director of the film or to the editor of a local newspaper regarding what you liked or didn’t like, what was helpful vs. not helpful or what you’d like to see more of when it comes to films about eating disorders. For example, while To The Bone features one person of color and one male in supporting roles, the movie’s star and protagonist is a young, white, upper-middle class woman with anorexia. This doesn’t help to dismantle stereotypes about who is and isn’t impacted by eating disorders. Consider writing a letter that advocates for greater diversity in eating disorder representation or about another aspect of recovery that feels important to you.
Create an escape clause. Allow yourself the option to stop watching at any point throughout the film. Eating disorders can be associated with all-or-nothing thinking so it may feel like once you start the movie you have to finish it, but remember it’s not so black and white. At any point, if you feel triggered or uneasy about what you’re watching, turn it off.
Plan ahead. Decide in advance upon an alternative show to watch or a self-care activity you can do when the film is over (or if you stop watching early) that will help you sustain a more recovery-focused mindset.
Do you use these strategies or have other ideas for navigating triggering media safely? Tweet them to us @CEDSheppPratt and we’ll add to the list.
Navigating “To the Bone” and other Potentially Triggering or Inflammatory Movies about Eating Disorders
Like most things in life there are benefits and risks that come with exposure to media, especially media that depicts sensitive or potentially life-altering subject matter such as eating disorders, suicide or mental health. As you may have already noticed from the controversial conversations about it, the Netflix movie, To the Bone is no different. The film depicts a young woman, Ellen, in the throes of her eating disorder and follows her through the recovery process which the synopsis points out, includes
help from a “non-traditional doctor” played by Keanu Reeves. It may come as no surprise that the main character, Ellen, is a young, white, very thin, upper middle-class woman, and that the particular eating disorder she is dealing with is anorexia nervosa. Hollywood tends to over-rely on this stereotyped depiction of eating disorders, despite the fact that in reality, eating disorders and the people they impact are much more diverse.
As one of the nation’s longest-running providers of evidence-based treatment for children, adolescents and adults with eating disorders we’ve been asked by numerous patients and families in the previous weeks how to handle such a film. And while To The Bone may be a new film, this is far from a new question. Over the last several decades, similar questions have been raised in response to documentaries, blogs, fictional books and memoirs written by individuals recovering from eating disorders.
Decades of observing the impact of this type of media has reinforced our recommendation that individuals who are currently struggling with an eating disorder or those who are in the early stages of treatment and recovery don’t typically benefit from watching movies or reading books that display any of the following characteristics:
extremely graphic depictions of people engaged in eating disorder symptoms such as bingeing, purging, chewing/spitting, body checking, over-exercising, self-harming or abusing drugs and alcohol
detailed descriptions of ED thoughts and behaviors that are left unchallenged, unexplained or are not paired with sufficient education regarding the consequences
conversations that include specific numbers such as weights, clothing sizes, calorie counts or repetitions of exercise.
If you notice any of these characteristics in a movie, show or book, it should be a red flag that it might not be a beneficial resource or recovery-focused activity for someone who is currently struggling.
We always look to support popular media that finds a way to raise awareness and stimulate meaningful discussions about eating disorders in safe and non-triggering ways. With that in mind, we went into our own viewing of this newest movie with high hopes and an open mind. Unfortunately, what we found was that To The Bone ultimatelyticks off all three of the red flags mentioned above. Furthermore, the film’s depiction of treatment methods and treatment protocols are far from helpful, safe, or accurate. As a team of specialized professionals, many of whom have spent their entire careers learning about, researching and utilizing evidence-based treatments for eating disorders, this film was, quite frankly, disappointing and at times difficult for our staff to watch.
On the flip side, it did do a good job of illustrating the immense pain and struggle faced by those who are impacted by these illnesses. It also got people talking about an issue that is usually hushed in society despite the fact that eating disorders impact 20-30 million people. Our hope would be that some viewers of the film gain insight or information that could help them check in with a friend or loved one who is showing warning signs and needs help.
Taking into account both perspectives and the possibility for all the positive and negative impacts, it’s crucial to think critically about the media introduced to us as communities, families and individuals.
If you are a therapist, a parent, educator or friend of someone with an eating disorder…
It’s really important to empower anyone considering watching a film about eating disorders to feel like they can disengage safely and with your support. Let them know it’s okay to decide not to watch because it has the potential to be harmful for them and their recovery. This can be a hard but powerful decision because it builds confidence and sets a precedent for recovery-focused decision-making. How? Today, it might be saying no to a Netflix film that “everyone else is watching and talking about” but tomorrow it could be saying no to a dangerous cleanse that a favorite celebrity is promoting on social media or saying no to a friend that encourages you to step on her bathroom scale. Learning how to say no to such things, even when the societal pressure and internal urges are strong, is imperative for long-term recovery.
If you have an eating disorder or are in recovery from an eating disorder…
If you’re like a lot of our patients, seeing a trigger warning at the start of a film or hearing in advance that it might be detrimental isn’t always a deterrent and might even make the content more intriguing. We’ve heard from some of our patients that they choose to watch the film despite their own reservations and knowledge of the content. Most of the reactions included versions of the following:
I found myself comparing my body to the actress in the film and thinking that maybe I wasn’t deserving of or didn’t really need treatment since I wasn’t as thin as her.
I found myself wishing I could go back to my eating disorder.
I was tempted to use “a little bit of my ED behaviors” and was reassuring myself I wouldn’t let it get that bad.
If she [the actress Lily Collins] can “lose weight safely” for this role after recovering from an eating disorder in real life than maybe I can too.
Despite what may be positive intentions for this film, it’s important to be realistic about how it actually plays out for the millions of people with eating disorders who watch it. While not everyone will have reactions like these, we think it’s important for individuals and support people to know it’s a possibility that the person who is struggling with an eating disorder may overlook the negative aspects of the eating disorder on screen and only see the perceived positive or glamorized aspects.
If you are struggling with whether or not to watch this film, or engage with any other eating-disorder focused media, remember that it’s okay to say no. At the very least, we encourage you to discuss your decision with a treatment provider or trusted support person. If you decide together that watching this type of film might actually be beneficial at certain stages of recovery, check out these guidelines for watching safely.
Some of the most important ways to enhance recovery and prevent relapse include: continuing regular contact with treatment providers, following evidence-based recommendations, engaging in regular self-care and creating a home environment that is conducive to your continued healing and recovery. In this case, that might also include creating a Netflix watchlist that doesn’t have anything to do with eating disorders.
Do you have thoughts on the film or the media surrounding it? Join the discussion on our Facebook page.
Written by Kate Clemmer, LCSW-C, Community Outreach Coordinator, The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt
The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt’s 2017 Professional Symposium is coming up on Saturday, October 7 and will be preceded by a half-day ethics workshop on October 6. This year’s event features a distinguished panel of speakers made up of some of the field’s top clinicians and expert researchers from around the world, including Australia, Israel and the U.S. Meet this year’s keynote speakers below and then head over to the official event page for a detailed agenda and registration options.
Carly Guss, M.D., MPH is a clinical instructor in pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. She received her BA from Yale University and her medical degree from the University of Michigan Medical School. After completing residency in pediatrics at Brown University, she pursued a fellowship in Adolescent Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and received her master’s in public health from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Her research interests include transgender and gender nonconforming adolescents’ experiences in primary care as well as the relationship of gender identity and body image; she has published numerous articles on these and other topics. Dr. Guss’ most recent research on transgender public school youth and their risks of disordered weight management behaviors was recently published in the Journal of Adolescent Health and she also presented this work at the most recent Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine’s annual conference.
James E. Mitchell, M.D. is the NRI/Lee A. Christoferson M.D. Professor and Chairman of the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences, where he is also the Chester Fritz Distinguished University Professor. He also serves as President and Scientific Director of the Neuropsychiatric Research Institute. Dr. Mitchell’s research focuses on eating disorders, obesity and bariatric surgery. He is past president of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the Eating Disorders Research Society. He has received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Research in Eating Disorders from the Academy for Eating Disorders, the National Eating Disorders Coalition Award for Research Leadership, and the Research Award from the Eating Disorders Research Society. He serves on the editorial boards of the “International Journal of Eating Disorders” and “Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases”. He has written over 500 scientific articles and is author, co-author or editor of 18 books.
Shiri Sadeh-Sharvit, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist with over 15 years of experience studying and working with individuals with eating disorders. Her research focuses on developing and examining novel, cutting-edge treatments for under-served patient groups. Dr. Sadeh-Sharvit received her PhD in clinical child psychology from Bar Ilan University in Israel, and since 2013 is a Visiting Instructor in the Eating Disorder Research Program at Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine. At Stanford, Dr. Sadeh-Sharvit studies interventions to support parents with eating disorder histories in facilitating healthy development in their children. Her book “Parents with Eating Disorders: A Treatment Guide”, (co-authored with James Lock, MD, PhD) is forthcoming with Routledge. Dr. Sadeh-Sharvit has received grants from the Child Health Research Institute, the National Eating Disorder Association, and the Davis Foundation. She is also currently involved in two NIH-funded studies of innovative online interventions for eating disorders.
Joanna Steinglass, M.D. is the Florence Irving Associate Professor in Clinical Psychiatry in the Center for Eating Disorders at Columbia University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Dr. Steinglass graduated from Amherst College and received her medical degree from Harvard Medical School. She completed her psychiatry training and an NIMH-sponsored research fellowship in eating disorders at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and New York State Psychiatric Institute. Dr. Steinglass has had NIMH and private foundation support since 2006. The focus of her work is both the cognitive neuroscience of anorexia nervosa, and the development of mechanism-based treatments.
Stephen Touyz, Ph.D. is Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Sydney where he serves as Chair of the Executive Committee of the Centre for Eating and Dieting Disorders at the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorders. Additional roles include member of the Steering Committee of the National Collaboration on Eating Disorders funded by the Commonwealth of Australia, inaugural treasurer of the Australian and New Zealand Academy of Eating Disorders and past president of the Eating Disorders Research Society (USA). In 2012, he was given the prestigious Leadership in Research Award by the Academy of Eating Disorders (USA) in recognition of his pioneering research in the field, and in 2014, he was awarded the first Lifetime Achievement Award by the Australian and New Zealand Academy of Eating Disorders and the Ian Campbell Memorial Prize by the Clinical College of the Australian Psychological Society for his outstanding contribution to the profession
Don’t miss out on this year’s symposium and accompanying ethics workshop. Visit eatingdisorder.org/events today and tell a colleague.
“Get Lean in 2017” “Shrink Your Gut,” “Add Bulk To Your Arms” “Get Rock Hard Abs,”
These are just a few of the typical headlines that can be seen on fitness and “health” magazines geared towards men. While there has been fairly widespread awareness cultivated around the media’s negative impact on women’s body image, not as much attention has been paid to how the media targets men and boys with similar body shaming tactics.
Our culture in general, and the media specifically, often pushes women to lose, lose, lose so they can be smaller, thinner and closer to an elusive definition of “perfect” but the opposite message is often being pushed towards men; most advertising and traditional media suggests the male quest for perfection requires they be bigger, stronger and more muscular. Products previously peddled exclusively towards women – hair removal items, weight loss diets, tanning products, and plastic surgery – are expanding their markets by making men take a harder, longer and much more critical look at their own appearance.
A 2016 review of five national studies found that 20 to 40 percent of men were unhappy with some aspect of their looks, including physical appearance, weight, and muscle size and tone. An earlier study found that college aged men who viewed media images of muscular men showed a significantly greater discrepancy between their own perceived muscularity (what they think they look like) and their ideal body (what they feel they should look like). The researchers suggested their results could show that even brief exposure to such idealized images can increase body dissatisfaction in men.
Despite this ongoing push for men to get bigger and stronger, over the last decade we’ve also seen the juxtaposition of thinner versions of masculinity. You can see it when looking at modern male mannequins with impossibly small waists and very slim – yet sculpted – abdomens and legs. Conflicting body ideals abound. So what is the message after all…get bigger, but stay lean? Be muscular, but still fit in those trendy skinny jeans? It’s mind numbing to try and understand, and even more impossible to attain, yet these are the messages that boys are forced to decipher from a very young age and often continue to wrestle with into adulthood and middle age.
Given all of this, it isn’t that surprising a 2014 study of more than five thousand males aged 12 to 18 years found nearly 18 percent of boys are highly concerned about their weight and physique. Of the boys who were highly concerned with their weight, about half were worried only about gaining more muscle, and approximately a third were concerned with both thinness and muscularity simultaneously.
It’s important to note that, as is also the case with females, photoshopped advertisements and a general lack of diversity in the media’s representation of bodies does not in and of itself cause eating disorders. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are complex illnesses with genetic and biologic underpinnings. However, environmental triggers such as narrow or unrealistic body ideals in the media can contribute to increased levels of body dissatisfaction which has been identified as a risk factor for eating disorders.
Dealing with unhealthy media messages is something that almost every man will have to deal with. As is also the case with girls and women, the dangers lie in the drastic steps some boys and men may take to try to manage increasing body image anxiety. Guys who are more dissatisfied with their bodies may be more likely to engage in risky weight loss, bulking or sculpting behaviors such as extremely restrictive diets, cleanses, steroids, supplements or excessive exercise. These are unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors for anyone. However, in boys and men who are genetically at risk for eating disorders, these types of behaviors can set the stage for an eating disorder, triggering changes in the brain, disrupting metabolic functioning, dysregulating hunger/fullness cues and often worsening body image, mood and anxiety symptoms. Boys and men who have a history of trauma, are involved in sports or careers that promote weight loss and perfection, and those with close family members with a history of an eating disorder are also at higher risk for developing one themselves.
Eating disorders have long been miscategorized as purely a women’s issue, even by some healthcare professionals. As a result it’s quite common for major warning signs like excessive exercise or drastic changes to diet to be overlooked or even congratulated in men. Stigma and stereotypes in the eating disorders combine to make it difficult for men who are stuck in the cycle of disordered eating to break out of it and get help. It is suggested that 25-40% of people with eating disorders are men, yet they only make up about 10% of people seeking treatment.
Talking openly about eating disorders can help minimize shame and embarrassment for males struggling with these issues. At The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, we’ve been treating men with eating disorders for more than twenty-five years and we’re encouraged by the changes we hear in the conversations more recently. More men have been speaking out locally and using national platforms to raise awareness. In just the last year, Zayn Malik of the band One Direction discussed his struggle with an eating disorder and anxiety, performer/songwriter Matthew Koma wrote a poignant blog about his recovery from anorexia, and Joey Julius, a football player at Penn State, made a series of public statements regarding his decision to seek treatment for binge eating disorder. Their messages all point to a resounding hopefulness stemming from the reality that treatment is available and men can heal from their eating disorders and body dissatisfaction.
So what can you do to help the men in your life?
Start by checking in with them. The Let’s Check Incampaign is all about empowering individuals, families and communities to talk openly about eating disorders and to strengthen support for individuals of all genders who might feel alone. When it comes to eating disorders, early identification and prompt help-seeking can make a big difference. You can play a role in supporting prevention and recovery from eating disorders simply by educating and preparing yourself.
Know the risk factors and pay attention to any sudden shifts in diet, exercise routine or increased negative comments about themselves or their body. If you’re unsure, the confidential online assessment is a quick tool that can help you gauge whether someone you love might be at risk. Second, if you are seeing increasing warning signs plan to check in with your friend or loved about your concerns and provide them with compassion and resources. A fact sheet, conversation guide and additional resources are available at www.letscheckin.com/.
Regis Aguglia, LCSW-C, Family Therapist at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt Regis Aguglia earned his Masters in Social Work from the University of Maryland in 2010. Prior to joining The Center for Eating Disorders in 2014, Regis provided individual, family and group therapy in outpatient and school-based settings and gained experience treating individuals struggling with substance abuse. As a Family Therapist in The Center’s inpatient and partial hospital programs, Regis works with families to understand the impact of an eating disorder on the family system and helps to strengthen communication, coping skills, nutritional stability and recovery-focused support. Regis also facilitates a number of inpatient therapy groups including dual diagnosis groups for patients with co-occurring substance abuse and a specialty group for boys and men with eating disorders.
“Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” ~Lady Bird Johnson
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Our CED Staff has been busy guest blogging for Eating Disorder Hope on a variety of topics from nutrition and meal plans to body image and relapse prevention. We hope you’ll take a look and share with friends, colleagues or clients who might benefit from the following information.
If you have questions about eating disorder treatment or a topic you’d like to see us write more about, please send your suggestions and requests to our Community Outreach Coordinator, Kate Clemmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Importance of Incorporating Fear & Challenge Foods in Recovery
Written by Caitlyn Royster, R.D. & Rebecca Hart, R.D., Registered Dietitians
While you may technically be following your meal plan, without incorporating fear foods you are still giving the eating disorder a major foothold by preserving fear and anxiety. It might seem like choosing safe foods is better than acting on symptoms. However, over time this restriction can snowball and lead to relapse. READ MORE…
Mother’s Day Makeover: Boosting Body Image for Ourselves and Future Generations
Written by Irene Rovira, Ph.D. Psychology Coordinator
4 Changes You Can Make in Your Home to Support Eating Disorder Recovery & Reduce Relapse
Written by Kate Clemmer, LCSW-C Community Outreach & Education Coordinator
It’s safe to say no one who has been through recovery from an eating disorder would downplay the difficulty or complexity of it. And while recovery is never simple or easy, there are some simple and straightforward changes you can make to reinforce recovery efforts and help prevent relapse. These specific modifications are not changes in thinking (cognition) or even changes in behavior but rather, changes to your physical living space – your home environment. READ MORE…
You may also be interested in the following posts:
In addition to her debut as a filmmaker with The Student Body, Bailey Webber is an up-and-coming public speaker and has appeared as a guest on several television and radio shows. If you missed Part 1 of our conversation with Bailey, you can find it hereand you can meet Bailey, along with her father and Co-Director of the film, Michael Webber, on February 26 atThe Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt.
Q&A with Bailey Webber – Part 2
What have been the most common responses or reactions from people who’ve seen The Student Body? Have they all been positive?
BW: For about a year the film has played at film festivals and special premieres and screenings around the country and my dad and I have been fortunate enough to attend many of them and engage with the audiences. This gives us a great idea of how people are responding to the story and information and I’m so happy to say that the reaction has been incredible!
We have had adults stand up and explain that the story has completely changed their perspective on themselves, their kids, and others. Students have felt empowered to speak up for the first time and share their own experiences, when before they were too ashamed to say anything. Teachers, doctors and school nurses have thanked us for making the film, have shared their own emotional stories. We receive emails and phone calls from people around the country, encouraging us to keep getting the message out. We even have clinics that want to incorporate the film into their patient programs.
Just this week we spoke with a clinician who has been battling this issue in her own school district for years, but with no success. Months ago she arranged to bring the film to her city and worked to encourage the community to join her in seeing it. The screening was last night and she called us immediately after. She was so excited and explained that the school officials have finally agreed to stop sending out the letters and will be looking for help to approach the issue in a more productive way! We were all so excited! It’s such a game changer and it makes me feel so humbled and overwhelmed to see the film is being used as a tool to help bring about change with these issues.
Do you have any personal advice or a message of hope for kids and teens who’ve been impacted negatively by bullying, BMI report cards or weight teasing?
BW: The biggest thing to know is that you are not alone and your voice does matter. I also want them to know that things can change, but only if we are willing to speak up and engage. Along those lines, there are a few things that I suggest to young people:
Always be respectful. Taking a stand, speaking your mind and challenging authority doesn’t mean you have the right to disrespect another person in the process. Otherwise, you’ve just done something wrong yourself!
Find an adult to learn from and help support you. My friend, Maddie, had a strong, smart, loving mother who was willing to stand behind her when she protested. For me, my dad had my back all along the way as I challenged authority at every corner. This can help give you the courage you need when taking on big challenges and getting outside of your comfort zone.
Know your rights. My dad taught me that 90% of having rights is knowing my rights! Learn from an adult what is possible, what actions you can actually take, and what your rights are. Then bravely exercise those rights! Trust me, it feels great!
Use your powerful voice! It’s surprising to learn that many people might feel the same way you do, but everyone is just waiting for someone else to speak up. Well, maybe you should be that “someone”! Start the conversation with your peers, your teachers, your parents and your school board. You’ll be amazed at the change that can happen when you finally choose to use your voice. I’ve experienced this twice in high school and you see it in the film. It’s amazing, it’s simple, and it can really change things for the better. You can do it, too!
What was it like to embark on a project this big with your dad as your partner? Did the two of you learn anything new about each other in the process?
BW: Working alongside my dad was amazing! Growing up he always taught my sister and me to tackle big and difficult things, to face our fears, and to overcome any disadvantages that we might have rather than use them as excuses. For me, making this film was an example of all of these things and having my dad mentor and encourage me through the process was everything.
Father/Daughter Filmmaking Duo, Michael Webber & Bailey Webber
In the beginning, he also explained that this was my project and he will be there to equal my effort, but no more. In other words, if I don’t put in the time, if I don’t do the research, if I don’t do the work, neither will he. But if I give it everything I have no matter how difficult the obstacles, then he will give his everything too. We joke about it now because the film became an obsession for me and I would drag him all over the country and spend the next three years helping me make this film. He even set aside other films he was working on just to help me see this through!
My dad would also assign books for me to read on filmmaking, journalism, writing – and I would read them all! He would give me lists of films to watch and study and take notes on, and then he would discuss them with me. He taught me how to edit, how to write for film, how story works and how to build these big story boards to work from as the production evolved. It was the greatest filmmaking course ever!We had so much fun together and I hope that comes out in the film, especially with the humor that we brought to it. So for me, the experience has changed me forever.
Who do you think could benefit from attending the screening of The Student Body here in Baltimore on February 26th? What overarching message do you hope they will take away from the event?
BW: Public screenings like this are great for parents, students, teachers, lawmakers, and anyone in the healthcare field. All of these groups are represented in the film and will benefit from experiencing the other perspectives in the story. My hope is that people will come away from the film with a greater understanding of the complexity behind obesity and eating disorders and with a new appreciation for the struggles that people have with their weight and body image.
Many thanks to Bailey Webber for taking the time to share about her experience filming The Student Body. If you’d like to see the film and have a chance to ask Bailey and her dad, Michael Webber, more about their experience, join us in Baltimore on February 26 for a FREE SCREENING in recognition of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Attendance is free but space is limited –RSVP Today!
Bailey Webber is a student investigative journalist, writer, and co-director of The Student Body. Her story of courage and activism has been featured in numerous newspaper and online articles. She has been honored by the National Association of University Women for her advocacy work, is an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association as well as Proud to Be Me with which she has written several articles, blogs, and has participated in panel discussions. Bailey is the daughter of Michael Webber, a motion picture producer and renowned documentary filmmaker. As such, she has grown up around movie making and has storytelling in her blood. The Student Body is her directorial debut.
In advance of the upcoming Baltimore Premiere of her film, we had the pleasure of asking Bailey about the film and her experience co-directing it alongside her father. Part 1 of here responses are shared here.
Q&A with Bailey Webber – Part 1
In your own words, can you tell us what The Student Body is about and why you feel people should see the film?
BW: For me, The Student Body is a story of empowerment and finding your voice. Learning to stand against something that you feel is wrong, even when nobody else seems to be standing with you. That’s the example we see in the beginning of the film with my friend, Maddy, which then empowered me to find my own voice, to step outside of my comfort zone, and to combat something that I felt was unjust. Little did I know the giants I would face along the journey!
I hope people will watch the film for a couple reasons. For one, I want young people to realize that their opinion does matter, their voice can be powerful, and they can help to bring about change in their world. But it starts with being willing to learn, to work hard, and to be persistent. And for adults, I hope they will see the film and learn as I did, that obesity is so much more complicated than we are led to believe, and shaming and blaming kids for this epidemic of obesity is wrong on so many levels.
I also want people to know that this is a very positive film and it’s even filled with a lot of humor! People are surprised at how funny and entertaining the film is and they come away from with a sense of hope and encouragement, as well as being better informed and energized about the progress that can be made. I’ve had both students and adults tell me seeing the film has changed their life!
Can you share a little bit about the evolution of The Student Body? What drew you to the topic of BMI report cards and body shaming in the schools?
BW: Believe it or not, this film actually started off as a small, summer project when I was a sophomore in high school. I wanted to make a documentary about the “fat letters” that were being handed out to students at my school and my dad, who is a filmmaker, agreed to mentor me through the process.
Early on in my investigation, it became clear that this was more than just a local story, this was happening all over our state. And by the end of the summer, I found myself in the middle of a heated national debate! This was much bigger than I could have imagined and I wanted to take my investigation all the way. So, my dad agreed to drop his other films and help me see this through to the end. The father/daughter filmmaking duo was born! I then spent the next two years in production, traveling the country and taking my story to its conclusion.
I am so thankful to have been able to learn and work alongside my dad. I had my own obstacles to overcome and I really needed someone like him to give me the confidence and encouragement to keep going all the way. It was an amazing journey and I learned so much about myself through the experience.
Was there one interview you did for the film that really moved you or was particularly powerful? If so, with whom was it and what made it stand out to you?
BW: As I began investigating this issue I read that these “fat letters” are being sent to students of all ages, even as young as kindergartners. I didn’t know how awful and detrimental this really was to young kids until I talked to them myself. One of the most powerful interviews I did was with a group of 4th graders in New York who were brave enough to speak on camera. These sweet little kids each received “fitness grams” from their school, telling them that they were overweight and were devastated by it. They cried when they got home. They saw themselves differently than before. And they were not alone; kids and parents all over the country have had similar experiences but just would not agree to talk about it on camera because it was humiliating.
The short time I spent with these kids changed me forever. It gave me the energy I needed to keep pressing forward and to be a voice for them and also caused me want to focus my future on working more with youth.
What was your personal knowledge/perception of BMI testing in schools before the film and how did it evolve throughout your filming of The Student Body?
BW: One of my favorite things about documentary filmmaking is how much I learn through the journey. When I started this film I didn’t know much about BMI or obesity. I simply wanted to tell a personal story about a girl at my school and shed light on what seemed like government profiling and bullying. But this led me to connect with top experts around the country who were willing to talk to me about BMI and obesity. I learned so much through this process and the neat thing is the audience gets to come along with me as we take this journey together.
Can you share the most surprising thing you learned in the process of creating this film?
BW: The most surprising, and maybe most controversial thing I learned, is that all of the experts that I spoke to said pretty much the same thing – obesity is a disease and the cause in many people may not be as simple as we once believed. Research is showing that it’s not as simple as calories in versus calories burned and that obesity is not only caused by poor diet and exercise. The research is finding all of these other factors that play a big role in the obesity epidemic and yet we still are pointing our finger at kids and telling them they have done something wrong. The experts talked with me about the disconnect between what their research is showing and what the general public believes.
Read Part 2 of our interview with Bailey Webber HERE.
At some point during treatment for an eating disorder, most individuals will meet with a Registered Dietitian. One of the many important things you’ll do during those sessions is identify and discuss your personal list of fear foods. This is an important step that allows the dietitian to individualize treatment, help you plan for and overcome obstacles, and work alongside the rest of the treatment team to empower you in your recovery.
What are fear foods? A fear food, or challenge food, is a term for foods that one finds difficult to incorporate into everyday eating. This term is used for foods that feel scary to eat, often because of negative thoughts or feelings related to the food’s nutrient content. Fear foods can be items or categories of food that one perceives to be “bad” and which, when consumed, might trigger feelings of intense guilt or shame. As a result, people with eating disorders often completely avoid or restrict their fear foods. Sometimes, just being around a particular food or being faced with the possibility of eating it can result in increased anxiety.
For people with anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, these fears and the perception of certain foods as “bad” are often related to anxiety about anticipated weight gain and/or an inability to stop eating the food once they begin. In other words, there tends to be a strong belief that eating a fear food will instantly make you fat or that eating a certain food will make you lose control and overeat.
A person’s list of fear foods might be specific, like ice cream or peanut butter. For others, their fear foods might encompass a whole category like all desserts or fried foods. Someone else’s fear food list might include an entire nutrient group such as carbohydrates. Common fear foods are also items considered by many to be tasty, but may also be labeled as “junk food” in our current culture.
Where do fear foods come from? Fear foods develop from personal values, attitudes, feelings and even memories associated with a certain food. Messages from the people close to you – family, friends, coaches, teachers, healthcare providers – all play a significant role in determining your thoughts about food and can ultimately influence your (dis)comfort with particular food items.
Fear foods may also stem from a variety of impersonal sources including trending cultural ideas about food, media messages, advertisements or even nutrition information intended to be educational and beneficial. For example, there are multitudes of articles and news stories that include lists of supposedly good vs. bad foods, or foods that are better/worse for health.
Another frequent source of fear or shame related to food is dieting. Given that most diets limit or cut out certain foods, dieters start to believe that the eliminated food is bad. The more diets a person goes on, the more fear foods they are likely to have.
What are some consequences of avoiding fear foods?
Limited variety and lack of enjoyment in meals
Obsessive thoughts about the feared food
Increased eating disorder symptoms and heightened risk of relapse
Prolonged negative relationship with food
People without eating disorders may have fear foods too but the consequences for those with eating disorders are much steeper since we know that limiting variety and continuing to avoid specific foods during recovery raises one’s chances for relapse. Two of our CED dietitians recently wrote in more detail about this topic for our friends at Eating Disorder Hope in a post entitled, The Importance of Incorporating Fear Foods and Challenge Foods in Recovery.
Remember, no single food has the power to make you thin or fat. And, ironically, the avoidance of a food is typically what leads a person to overeat it.
If you think you might need assistance reintegrating fear foods or overcoming negative thoughts about food and eating in general, please call The Center for Eating Disorders at (410) 938-5252 for a free phone consultation.
In individuals with different eating disorder diagnoses, or those with co-occurring disorders, fear foods might manifest differently. For example, in individuals with ARFID, anxiety may be related to a fear of choking or to a perceived health consequence of eating the food item. In individuals with PTSD, fear foods may stem from associations with the traumatic experience. In both cases, treatment methods may differ, and the treatment team should take into account the origin and underpinnings of each fear food when providing education and support.
Blog Contributors: Hannah Huguenin, MS, RD, LDN Samantha Lewandowski, MS, RD, LDN Kate Clemmer, LCSW-C
We spent the summer talking about several steps you can take to turn body dissatisfaction into body acceptance. We also presented some of the very important reasons why someone might be motivated to embark on such a task. The bottom line: negative body image can negatively impact all other areas of life – career, academics, physical health, social interaction and intimate relationships. As many as 67% of women ages 15-64 withdraw from life-engaging activities because they feel badly about their bodies. And women are not alone in the struggle; Thirteen percent of college-aged men say their appearance is traumatic or difficult to handle as well.As we head into the fall, its important to remember that negative body image doesn’t just go away for most people simply because the beach vacations and relentless bikini body advertisements subside. As much as we wish that was the case, we know body image is much more than a seasonal hazard.
Body insecurity will follow young boys and girls into middle school classrooms where they may stop raising their hands or engaging in class discussion to avoid drawing attention to their appearance.
Body insecurity will follow young adults onto college campuses around the country where it, paired with genetic risk factors like perfectionism and anxiety, plus fear of the Freshman 15, may provide fuel for the development of an eating disorder.
Body insecurity will follow the new mom to the play date where she will silently compare and scrutinize her body. She’ll be sold a thousand different ways to get her pre-baby body back.
Body insecurity will follow the quiet colleague home from work each night. He refuses to hang out with friends or start dating until he finally “bulks up” again.
These may be the realities of day-to-day life with body dissatisfaction but they don’t have to be the end of the story. In addition to the 3 Steps we laid out during the #bodypositivesummer campaign, here are a few guidelines to help boost body image in any season.
1. Don’t postpone important events or fun life goals for appearance or weight-related reasons. Putting off a special vacation, not applying for your dream job or not going on a date until you lose XX lbs. is a recipe for missed opportunities and delayed happiness. Saying you’ll get around to something in few months can quickly turn into a few years, or even decades. If you’ve been waiting to live life fully because you’re unhappy with your body, consider taking one small step today towards whatever it is you’ve been putting off. Research flights, update your resume or call an old friend.
2. Stop Fat Chat. When among friends or in social settings commit to steering the conversation away from appearance-based judgments and into more positive territory. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a report urging pediatricians and parents to stop focusing on weight, or even mentioning weight, during discussions with children and teens. The reason? Focusing on weight backfires, often leading to unhealthy behaviors that are associated with both obesity and eating disorders. The same is true for adults. Stop focusing on your weight as the golden marker of health and you may actually find it’s easier and/or more fulfilling to engage in healthful behaviors.
3. Cleanse your social media feed. Disconnect from the negativity, surround yourself with positive, healthy, and uplifting social media accounts. If you’re online quite a bit, there is no reason to allow Instagram followers who consistently engage in fat talk or body criticism to cloud your view of yourself. You have every right to unfollow Twitter users that promote weight loss or diet products, even if they are close friends or family members. Remember, you are the curator of your accounts; use that power to cultivate a body positive presence for yourself online.
4. Last but definitely not least…ASK FOR HELP. Negative body image can be a risk factor in the development of eating disorders or may trigger relapse while in recovery from one. If you’re having a lot of negative body image thoughts throughout the day or they’re impacting your behaviors around food and weight it might be time to seek support. Specific evidence-based therapies like Cognitive Behavior Therapy can be effective in addressing body dissatisfaction. It can help to tell a trusted friend, spouse, or parent that you’re struggling and ask them to support you in getting connected to a counselor or therapist who is trained in these specific techniques.
Not sure where to turn? You can complete a confidential online self-assessment hereor call (410) 938-5252 for more information.
When cheering on the elite athletes at the Rio Olympics and in other high-profile sporting events, it can be easy to lose perspective and you may find yourself comparing your physical body to those at the peak of their sport careers. Lost in these comparisons, we too often become self-critical and forget the long journeys, support communities, financial resources, sacrifices and sheer hard work that comes with being an Olympic athlete.
Engaging in body comparison not only hurts you but serves to fuel the overall toxic culture of body shaming. After all, even Olympic athletes are subject to mean-spirited remarks about their appearance. In the most recent summer games, Ethiopian swimmer Nobel Kiros Habte faced some harsh comments for not matching the “look” of his peers, as did Mexican gymnast Alexa Moreno. Many others have faced similar backlash through the years.
Just as athletes are not immune from body shaming, it’s important to remember the “perfect” athletic body does not equate to perfect health. Making snap judgments about someone’s fitness or health based on their appearance is misleading – it’s rarely possible to tell, for example, if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them. Athletes are not immune to eating disorders or struggles with body image. American cyclist and two-time national champion Mara Abbott has been open about her experience with anorexia. In a candid column for a cycling blog, she reflected on how it affected her performance: “Personally, having taking a hiatus from sport in 2012 due to an eating disorder, I can attest that my thinnest was definitely not my strongest. I really mean that. Please read that sentence more than once.”
As we gather around the television with our friends and families to celebrate athletic achievement, we can support the competitors, ourselves and each other by focusing less on physical appearance and more on the hard work and powerful accomplishments of these world-class athletes. After all, Olympic bodies can be powerful, graceful, tough and resilient but they are also diverse. From gymnastics to archery, swimming to shot put, let’s allow our athletes to be inspirations, not because of or in spite of their looks but for the attitude and spirit they project in aiming for their goals. Let’s enjoy watching all sporting events – whether it’s a World Cup game or a pee wee soccer league – from a place of body appreciation and as part of a body positive summer.