The Center for Eating Disorders Blog

How to Stay Recovery-Focused When Interacting with Triggering Media

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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. 


You may also be interested in reading: 
To Watch or Not to Watch: That is the Question, Navigating “To The Bone” and other potentially triggering movies about eating disorders