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What You Need To Know About Eating Disorders Before You Watch 'To The Bone

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After the controversy surrounding 13 Reasons Why and its glamorization of teen suicide, many were concerned that Netflix’s new original movie, To The Bone, would fall victim to the same issues with its focus on eating disorders. The film, released on July 14, centers on 20-year-old Ellen (Lily Collins) as she battles through an almost disastrous journey with anorexia and struggles to recover from the eating disorder that is quickly engulfing her entire life.

While critical reception was more positive regarding To The Bone, many, including health experts, were still disappointed and concerned with how anorexia was portrayed. If you’re like me and want to know more about eating disorders, especially how to help family and friends, then speaking to an eating disorder specialist is the best way to go. Thankfully, Dr. Julie Morison, Ph.D., Director and Owner of Albany Psychological Services for Eating Disorders in Albany, New York, was kind enough to share her insight and explain how eating disorders are much more complicated and intense than many realize.

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What are some common causes of eating disorders (EDs) among teens, other than influence from the media?

Bullying is one of largest causes of EDs among teens, especially in boys. Causes of EDs are often unknown. Someone can develop an ED very accidently. Many patients come to us reporting that they were trying to “eat healthy” and things then got out of control.

How common are eating disorders among teenagers?

They say that 10 in 100 [young women] are diagnosed with an ED. This is lower in males.

Anorexia and bulimia are often the two most talked about eating disorders. What are some other eating disorders you see more frequently nowadays?

Binge eating disorder appears to be the most commonly seen of the new ED diagnoses.

What are some major misconceptions about eating disorders?

Some common misconceptions are everyone with an ED is underweight, it only affects women, it's always about weight, shape and size, and that EDs aren’t that serious. In fact, EDs are the most deadly of all mental illnesses.

What are some signs that someone may be battling an eating disorder?

There may be no outward sign that a person is struggling. However, the following are a few things one might witness: a person may go to the bathroom immediately after or during meals, or take a long shower soon after completing a large meal; weight loss or weight gain; changes to hair (thinning); cold intolerance; and isolation from others, especially if the person might be expected to eat a meal. Some other signs may include increase in exercise, or exercising immediately following a meal; food rules, such as dramatic restriction of foods or food groups; skipping meals; the use of laxatives, diuretics, or diet pills; and eating in excess after having restricted.

Does having an eating disorder necessarily mean that a person has to be incredibly thin?

Nope! People with bulimia are often of normal weight or can be above normal weight. People with binge-eating disorder are often overweight.

What can family and friends do to help someone with an eating disorder?

They can help encourage their loved ones to see their primary care provider to ensure they are medically stable. Encourage that they seek a consultation for treatment by a mental health provider that specializes in the treatment of EDs. Connecting them with a dietician can also be very helpful. Family members want to encourage support from outside providers; it can stress the family dynamic to turn the family members into “the food police.” With the help of a clinician, the family can take on the role of support and advocacy.

What kind of treatment is available for those with eating disorders?

There are many levels of care that patients with EDs can seek, depending on how ill they are. People with EDs can seek treatment as an inpatient in a medical facility (usually for refeeding), or they can go to residential treatment facilities and intensive outpatient treatment programs, as well as weekly therapy with a mental health provider. It is important to seek the right level of care based on the person’s symptoms. We provide intensive outpatient treatment and therapy at our practice, HPA/LiveWell, both here in Albany and in Poughkeepsie, NY. You can read more about our treatment at www.hpalivewell.com.

In the future, how do you think media companies can accurately go about portraying eating disorders onscreen?

 It's a very tricky situation. I think what comes into play a lot is...who is watching. You can have someone who is recovery-minded watching it, and someone who may be [battling an ED] watching it, and they both have different views. I think it's important [for media companies] to consider the myths, like all people with EDs are skinny, and to portray EDs accurately. It really is a tricky situation, and I think who is watching really affects the outcome.

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Gianluca Russo is a freelance writer, editor and social media manager who has been published in Brit+Co, Paste Magazine, Playbill, BroadwayWorld, 518Life Magazine, the Albany Times Union and more. Visit www.GianlucaRusso.webs.com for more of his work and connect with him on social media @G_Russo1.

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