“Staying Out of Rehab”: On Oprah’s Upcoming Show about Eating Disorders
On January 1st, 2011, when the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) debuts on cable in over 80 million homes, a new show called “Inside Rehab” will be featured amidst the prime time lineup. Developed by Harpo Studios, this documentary-type series will consist of eight episodes and is said to provide viewers “a rare look inside an eating disorder treatment facility where patients face their demons and struggle to come to terms with what’s behind the food.”
As someone who has been through the emotional, grueling, sad, scary, heartbreaking, painful, yet ultimately liberating, beautiful process of eating disorder treatment, I cannot imagine how different my experience would have been had there been cameras (ahhhh!!!) watching, recording, and broadcasting my every move, every word, every tear, every fear, every fight, every bite…. (Not to mention every pound.)
Since my own recovery from Anorexia, I tend to see the positives and negatives, the advantages and disadvantages, the pros and cons, the black and white and gray(!) of most things. And while I can clearly see the admirable effort to increase awareness, promote compassion and understanding, and help educate people about eating disorders, this is another instance where I fear paths may be paved with “good intentions”…
“Inside Rehab” takes viewers into the world of eating disorders in a raw and transformative way,” stated Chief Creative Officer, Lisa Erspamer. “Whether you have issues with food or know someone who does, this series offers perspective, hope, and the possibility to see food-based issues in a new light.”
And that’s what scares me.
I will never forget a member of my first ANAD group once telling me how sitting in health class, watching a film about eating disorders had triggered her bulimia. Now, keep in mind that YES, the film and subsequent class discussion included the blatant message that eating disorders are serious illnesses that are extremely damaging to one’s health and can be fatal. But this young woman, a fifth or sixth grader at the time, like so many other children, adolescents, and adults, confessed through brave, honest tears that instead of heeding the warning, she saw hope. A way to channel the feelings she was having about herself, her body, her life. And, she also admitted, she though it would be a way to look more like the girl in the film.
Needless to say, the idea of Inside Rehab is extremely worrisome to me. While I commend the topic of eating disorders being addressed in such a public forum, even if the eight episodes were somehow able to incorporate important issues such as interventions, insurance coverage (or lack thereof), eating disorder treatment options and approaches, warning signs you or someone you love may be developing an eating disorder or relapsing, what to do/where to go/how to seek help, and co-occurring disorders(just to name a few), I think it is still sadly likely to do more harm than good… Regardless of intentions.
It seems to me that more people involved in the field of eating disorders, those who’ve recovered, and those who are currently struggling, should have been consulted before deciding to offer viewers this “rare look” at individuals undergoing perhaps the most difficult battle of their lives, while “facing their demons”. Perhaps someone, for example, could have also brought up the fact that people with eating disorders are often highly competitive, striving to be the thinnest/sickest of all. So, not only will this likely occur within the show’s “cast” of individuals followed through treatment, it may also infiltrate your own home…
It may spark ideas that were never considered before. It may open or re-open certain doors. And knowing that one of the hardest parts of treatment for me was the feeling of a complete lack of privacy, I feel I owe it to each person on the show and to myself, to respectfully leave the TV off and just wish them well.
If you want to know what eating disorder treatment is like, perhaps you could try reading a bookor a blog, or asking someone in your life! Those of us still struggling, recovering, or fully recovered may welcome the opportunity to share with you what it was like from an insider’s perspective, without running the risk that you or someone you love may be seduced, enticed, instigated, or triggered.
If anyone could present this devastating, epidemic issue in a positive, “transformative” way, it would be Oprah.
But I, for one, will not be watching.