How The Media Perpetuates An Incorrect Understanding Of Eating Disorder Recovery

To summarise the tone of this post, I’ll just say that the title was going to be: Calling out the articles that I’m sick of reading. Cue the angry rant…

As the person responsible for running the social media accounts for The Recover Clinic, I’m always looking for news articles that relate to our work with eating disorders, mental health, body image and trauma. But in my search, I’ve noticed an ever-growing presence of two types of articles that really, really get to me. Especially as these posts seem to have a monopoly over well-researched and educational posts by publications such as Refinery29 and the Metro.

Before and After Photos

Firstly, I want to highlight that I understand why people might choose to post before and after photos. I assume the motivation stems from a narrow understanding of recovery; where physical restoration is equated to mental progress and healing. Which, of course, can be a strong marker.

However, what these posts so often neglect is the emotional progress and healing that lies beneath the surface of someone’s physical body. And it’s this healing that is the crucial (if not, the most crucial) part of recovery.

“If outside validation is your only source of nourishment you will hunger for the rest of your life”

Recovery isn’t solely about food and body image, it’s therefore not solely quantifiable by weight restoration, or feeling able to post a picture of your body online – although I appreciate that this may be a body image milestone for some.

Because of the prevalent nature of these articles, it feels as though it’s more about wanting to take part in a trend, as opposed to wanting to share personal experience. Not to mention how triggering before and after photos can be. The left image so often portrays a skeletal frame, blurring the lines about what an eating disorder ‘looks like’, and therefore, expectations for what you ‘need to look like’ to have an eating disorder.

I ask why it’s so important that social media plays a role in that, and what purpose the “likes” serve.

As someone’s who has suffered with an eating disorder, I have no desire to share pictures of me from that time as they represent feelings of being very unhappy and suffering, that I’ve worked very hard to heal.

“She recovered by becoming [insert gruelling diet/exercise regime]”

Countless times I’ve seen articles saying something along the lines of: “Anorexic girl recovers and becomes a body builder” or “Bulimic woman weighing just XXX stone saved her life by becoming vegan”.

It seems there’s also a fascination with the lifestyles some people adopt in recovery, and the media are very quick to label them as fully “recovered” and thriving.

Again, there’s a misunderstanding that recovery equates to the ability to eat food regularly, along with what is a socially understood as a “normal body”. You can’t recover from an eating disorder by – consciously or unconsciously – replacing one obsession with another. All it suggests is that the root cause of the problem hasn’t had time to heal, and so an obsessive or excessive coping mechanism of some sort is still needed.

As someone in recovery, I’ve noticed how easy it is for me to get very excited about a new hobby, and a part of me still really wanting to make it part my “identity” in some way. However, my therapy has taught me that I don’t need such narrow margins of self-definition.

I’ll end this ranty post with a quote I read recently: “If outside validation is your only source of nourishment you will hunger for the rest of your life”.

Recovery can take a while, but that’s only a negative thing if you don’t fall in love with healing yourself.

Posted in , by The Recover Clinic