It’s Not Like in the Movies: Eating Disorder Recovery

I’m not going to lie- I was looking forward to seeing To The Bone, the new Netflix movie featuring Lily Collins and her character’s battle with anorexia. Since before I even started recovering from my eating disorder, I’ve been searching for a film about eating disorders that I can relate to. This film has come the closest yet.

I approached it with some caution because the trailer was *hella* triggering for a lot of people, including myself. In hindsight, if I were wiser I probably would not have watched the movie at all. Yet I found myself this evening, hugging a couch pillow in the dark, watching Ellen and Lucas and the rest of the young adults in the homey-looking treatment centre battle their respective versions of the same beast- that damned eating disorder that is so effing hard to recover from.

It wasn’t as triggering as I thought it would be. In fact, as I was gearing up to write a blog post about what To The Bone got right, I came across this post from The Mighty that summed up my thoughts before I even had a chance to digest (no pun intended) the film.

So, I am going to jump on the bandwagon of negativity by calling out what To The Bone gets wrong.

First of all, let me acknowledge that I know this is a movie. Parts of it were pretty dramatized (*cue dancing in the rain scene*). But as I thought about the movie afterwards, I realized something- the main thing that To The Bone gets wrong is something that no movie could ever probably portray.

Recovery from an eating disorder is a gruelling and long and often invisible process.

It goes far beyond feeding tubes and giving up exercise, and it even goes beyond weight restoration. It goes beyond conquering fear foods and being able to actually enjoy cake at your own birthday. It goes beyond being able to order a drink with calories in it, and it goes beyond eating more than a salad two nights in a row for dinner.

Some days, even when everything is going right and your eating disorder has been silent for a while, recovery gets hard again.

Recovery is not Lily Collins’ white dress, it is not her Goo Goo bar for breakfast, and it is definitely not a British boy kissing her in a tree.

Recovery is a daily decision.

It is the decision to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every freaking day. It is the decision to say yes to a coffee with cream in it, it is the decision to go out to eat with your friends and not google the calories beforehand. It is the decision to eat what your body needs and wants, and to exercise when and how your body needs and wants.

You can’t always see that someone recovering from an eating disorder is struggling. Maybe they have gained some weight and have been on the recovery road for a few years. But they may be sitting next to you at the dinner table trying to talk themselves out of counting the calories later, or going for a run to burn this meal off.

To The Bone didn’t and couldn’t portray that. And this is probably because a movie like that would be extremely boring. Because recovery can be extremely boring. (I wouldn’t even watch a movie like that, and I’m deeply invested in this topic, so…)

And for those of you who are at that stage in recovery where you’ve realized this road is long and gruelling and boring and, well, invisible to people who don’t have eating disorders… I’m rooting for you.

Your eating disorder will probably try to persuade you to come back to it, if only because a life on the brink of death sounds and looks scarier and more exciting. It might try to mask this with other lies that you’re more likely to believe- like: “you were never sick enough” or “you need to prove to yourself that you’re a real anorexic/bulimic/whatever.”

No matter what your eating disorder tries to tell you, we both know how to respond…

“Fuck off, voice!”