Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The person is not his/her disorder

Some of you may have seen the local news story about anorexia the other day. Of course, I support anyone with an eating disorder getting the support they need, but I found the news story to be so inappropriate in so many ways, a few of which I will detail here.

As my patients know, one of my huge pet peeves is the use of the words "anorexic" and "bulimic." When I wrote my dissertation, which was largely on cutting, I drove my advisor nuts because I refused to write the word, "cutter," and instead made my dissertation significantly longer, I am sure, by writing "individuals who engage in self-harm" and similar phrases. So, here's the point: Do you call someone who has cancer, cancer-ic? No, you don't. So, why would someone with anorexia be "an anorexic." The person is not his or her disorder, and in fact, identifying with the disorder is one of the major hurdles to overcome in treatment. So, hearing "anorexic" over and over was very upsetting. This patient did not need to identified as her disorder. She is a person, with a disorder; she is not actually a disorder.

News stories seem to feel such pull to glamorize eating disorders also. Maybe glamorize is not quite the right word. But, they feel the need to show exactly what symptoms the person engages in, his/her weight, etc. All the things that those with eating disorders compete over. So, maybe the news story helped those who know absolutely nothing about EDs understand what behaviors make up an ED, but I was frustrated because I knew those with EDs who were watching the story were being triggered right and left. Some simple research on the part of the reporters would have helped them understand the disorder better, and know what they decided to focus on not only is not unique, but likely triggering to others with the disorder about which they were trying to educate.

So, what could the story have been about instead? How about using this woman's story, without all the details, to present the message that there needs to be greater insurance coverage for treatment? There would have been a lot of benefit to trying to engage people in the fight against insurance companies, or to strengthen laws regarding mental healthy parity. People left that news story knowing what symptoms make up anorexia, and one individual that has the disorder. So much more good could have been done by focusing less on the details, and more on what needs to change within our healthcare system when it comes to eating disorder treatment and coverage.

I want to make it clear I am not criticizing the woman in the piece. She has an eating disorder and deserves access to treatment and, I'm assuming, took the steps she thought could help her get help. I'm criticizing those who were more in the position to treat this story differently, and create greater benefit.

Update: I was just called by the new outlet to come on air live for their follow up story. I refused on principle, and let them know my concerns with their approach to this story. So, hopefully the information I gave them will help change their approach in follow up.


  1. I read the comments on the story on KSL yesterday and am now wondering if the "Anorexic" comment was yours ;-)

    I agree that the story was delivered in what could be a triggering way to those who are suffering. It seems like the media always goes for the shock value. It also seems like there are rarely articles, news stories, invention-type shows that are about bulimia or EDNOS and my guess would be for the same shock value reason.

    I do hope that woman is able to get the help she needs. I do worry however, that many girls who currently struggle will now find her blog and play the comparison game as she does post a lot of numbers and behaviors. I have been going strong in recovery for a couple years now and some things I saw in the article and on the blog raised red flags for me.

  2. hmmmm, i was not thrilled with this either. my biggest issue, of course was the mentioning of numbers and their need to tell us what she eats, etc. because we ALWAYS hear in treatment, "it's not about the food." it was just so...i don't know...they were glorifying it. bugged me.

    also, as someone who used to run a fairly successful blog that was about eating disorders, i have to say that i am not thrilled that this woman would blog about her numbers and heart rate and what she ate, etc. very triggering for other people, and there are people all over the www that troll for pro-anorexic stuff. i'm sure her intentions were not really bad, but still, makes me cringe to think of posting stuff like that on a blog.

    but really and truly i hope she can get well.

    and...when i read that you "declined on principle," i was like, DAMN RIGHT SHE DID. booyah! :)