Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Supersize -v- Responsibility

This evening, three women suffering from eating disorders described their conditions in an admirably articulate and empathetic manner on national television. What might have been a massive step forward in educating the British public about their hugely complex psychological illnesses was then spectacularly undone by a resident television ‘expert’ who attempted to ‘educate’ the three ladies on the nutritional merits of their respective diets.

Yes, blog devotees, Supersize-v-Superskinny is back, which inevitably means an increased degree of rant-age from yours truly.

Newsflash Channel 4: One does not starve oneself or stuff oneself to bursting and then purge by forcing oneself to be sick because one believes it to be a nutritionally sound way to conduct oneself. .

Picture the scene. A woman who has been suffering from anorexia nervosa for three years is sitting next to Supersize’s resident ‘expert’ in front of a visual approximation of her daily food intake. For breakfast, she consumes a black coffee, which is helpfully displayed in a transparent mug (in case we find ourselves unable to imagine what a black coffee might look like).

“Breakfast stands for break-fast” (our expert helpfully explains) “you cannot break an overnight fast using just black coffee”.

Our anorexic displays the expression one might expect- it conveys smugness at her ability to sustain herself on so little, incredulity that this is where her road to recovery has been deigned to begin with a distinct air of “yes, I know”.

I appreciate of course that the majority of the British public might require eating disorders to be stripped down to the bare and most easily comprehensible components in order to glean a basic understanding of them. However, perpetuating an idea that an ED can be cured by educating the subject about the deficiencies in their diet is just downright dangerous.

The eating disordered mind is not a logical place. It cannot be reasoned with and it doesn’t respond to the same persuasions as a healthy person’s might. In the mind of an anorexic or bulimic, damage to one’s health is the price one pays as a servant to one’s condition and, more crucially, one comes to believe that this condition will inevitably result in death.

Those who claim to be ‘experts’ in the field must first acknowledge that they are dealing with people for whom their illness is an all-consuming obsession and premature death is not only an inevitability, but positively welcomed as marking the end of the torment to which they have subjected themselves.

Eating disorder awareness is a delicate and controversial arena. Whilst television has jumped on the bandwagon of this hugely popular social topic, it must also acknowledge its duty to do so responsibility.

Until such time, expect many more rant-y rage fuelled blogs.


  1. Interesting post Tash, I'm with you 100% as always. Bloody programme but I still can't help myself watching it!


  2. Having suffered an ED myself, I can't actually believe that such a programme really exists? You're quite sure this isn't some mass hallucination?