Last night Lifetime aired the first episode of its new show “Starving Secrets with Tracey Gold.” The best way I can describe the show is that it is basically Intervention for eating disorders.
I watched the show, but even before watching it I had a lot of thoughts and feelings about it. Some of those thoughts my friend Genie summed up nicely, so I hope she doesn’t mind, but you should read those thoughts here. Like she said, a huge aspect of this show that I worry about is the comparison aspect. She mentioned the people on the show comparing themselves to where they were in their disorder when the show was filmed, which is honestly something I had not thought of before.
However, something that I immediately thought of when I first heard about the show is all the people sitting at home watching the show who are in that back and forth of “do I have an eating disorder or do I not.” That is a back and forth that everyone with an eating disorder engages in pretty much everyday in my opinion, and when you show extreme cases on TV, that voice that says “you don’t really have a problem” gets even stronger. I know I was sitting there thinking “That girl on TV – the one who only weighs XX – now she has a problem, but since you never weighed that little you really are not that sick.” That being said, I thought the show did a good job of showing how all-consuming and misery inducing eating disorders can be. There was zero glamorizing and it definitely highlighted how lonely and miserable EDs are. Furthermore, I think it is quite admirable of Tracey Gold to bring attention to eating disorders and watching the show and pre-show interviews I was struck by how much she genuinely cares about raising awareness and getting people help.
Also, I was happy to see that unlike most other portrayals of eating disorders (::cough:: Dr. Phil ::cough::), only one of the individuals Tracey Gold helped was underweight, which will hopefully help counter the prevailing public view that one only needs intensive treatment if emaciated. Based on the episode last night and previews for upcoming episodes, I think she is doing a good job of choosing people with a variety of eating disorder symptoms and complications. I am hopeful that this will educate the public as to how diverse the struggle can be – not everyone with an ED is underweight, or restricts, or purges, or exercises etc.
There were three things in last night’s episode, however, that really bothered me. First, with both individuals they said something along the lines of “this is her 5th or 6th time in treatment, this is her last chance.” Since when did you only get a certain number of chances in treatment? I get that multiple times in intensive treatment can mean that that process might be harder, or the person might have more complications than someone who has not had an eating disorder for that long, but still. It made me feel like I should be saying to myself “well, you tried treatment X number of times, if you relapse that’s it, no more treatment.” I keep telling myself that relapse is not a possibility if I want school to work out, but to me that’s different than the message the show conveyed.
Second, both individuals at the end were basically doing perfect in their recovery. The anorectic woman was a healthy weight and spoke of going out to eat with friends and not obsessing over food. The woman with bulimia was not purging at all and her OCD was under control. While I am happy that both left residential treatment in such a positive place, I think it would have been more realistic to explain that recovery is not always a smooth road and slips are part of the process.
Third, I wish they had showed some more of the treatment process with the woman with anorexia. Now maybe she didn’t want them to show that, and in that case I am glad they respected her opinion. However, cutting from when she entered residential treatment to several months later kind of gave the impression that the struggle is over once one enters residential treatment. They showed her really struggling to follow her treatment team’s recommendations in outpatient, but no struggle in residential. I just feel like that could give the message that a treatment center is sort of this magical place, when in reality most days spent in such settings involve anxiety, tears and frustration. But again, it’s hard to strike a balance between showing the true nature of the process and giving the patient some privacy.