I was filled with excitement upon the discovery that Troian Bellisario had written, produced, and starred in a film, inspired by her own struggle with anorexia nervosa. The film has been the most accurate film, to date, to portray the struggle of an eating disorder. A common misconception among the uneducated is that eating disorders are inspired by vanity. The reality, as the film correctly portrays, is that eating disorders are primarily about control. Anorexia is an attempt to gain control through extreme food restriction. This idea is brought about through a thought, a voice. The voice initially appears to be a friend and be looking after your best interest. This voice, or alter ego, requires obedience in exchange for perfection. The price initially seems small. But, obedience soon becomes deadly. Disobedience results in punishment by extreme anxiety or rigorous exercise without replenishment of food. The voice encourages one to reduce hunger by sleeping, fill up on liquids, or in extreme situations, purge through vomiting or use of laxatives.
The idea to personify Olivia’s eating disorder through her late brother, Matt, is genius. Audience members who have never struggled with the disease fail to comprehend why one would listen to such a destructive voice. But, in personifying ED as a trusted confidant and ultimately, a “safe” person, the audience may be able to comprehend why such a narrative may seem appealing. Matt, initially, is friendly and comforting. He encourages her to make sacrifices in order for her to reach her goals, such as losing sleep to study vigorously in order to maintain valedictorian status. The requests surrounding food initially begin as requests to “save” food for him, leading Olivia to bury uneaten food under the tree in the backyard. Towards the middle of the film, he becomes aggressive. He refuses to let her eat, even within the eating disorder facility where is she is receiving inpatient treatment. He encourages her to commit suicide. The voice begins to contrast sharply from the initial voice we met at the beginning of the film. This is how ED integrates himself into the life of victims. ED secures his role as a trusted friend and later reveals his identity as a masked murderer. Hence, portraying this “voice” as a brother can ultimately connect to an audience who is unable to comprehend from a level of experience
The end of the film was ultimately an eye-opening experience for me. “Eating Disorder Matt” visits Olivia on her first lunch allowed outside of the facility. He plays a song on the jukebox. Olivia closes her eyes and takes a deep breath to find that ED has left, as she struggles to eat her salad without anxiety. This was eye opening and validating for me, because it reaffirms that ED never really leaves. ED is an addiction, just like cocaine or heroin. I am an addict. Every single day I struggle not to derive my self-worth by what I put in my mouth. An addict can be “clean,” but they will always be an addict. I have been “clean” from ED from a number of years, but, I will always be an addict to counting calories, extreme dieting, and dangerous exercise regimens to create an illusion of being in control of my life. In the same way you would not take an alcoholic to bar, I am required to stay away from calorie counting apps, health magazines, and special diets. A person who has never struggled from an eating disorder may find these helpful. These items could result in fatal tragedies from me. I often feel a high from starving myself. I feel powerful. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize this is not healthy. But, neither is the “high” derived from narcotics.
What makes my addiction so difficult is that I can never disengage from it completely. Heron and cocaine addicts must completely be off their drugs. But, I see food every single day. I eat three times a day. Thus, staying “clean” requires more effort than any other addiction. Every day, I battle with the voice that calls me a “worthless piece of shit” for eating a chocolate chip cookie. Every night, I battle with the voice that tells me I’ll be worthy once I weigh less than 100 pounds. I’ve learned to ignore ED. I know he’s dangerous. But, his tactic is to enter with compassion, love, and confidence: everything he is not.
When ED appears, I have to remind myself of the the time my heart almost stopped one night or the time I was leaning over a toilet seat for eating what I thought was too much Halloween candy. The film feed was brilliant. It exposed ED’s many disguises. It was “spot on” in portraying the true nature of living with the disease, and the lifelong struggle of being one of ED’s victims.