Glorifying or getting the word out? Netflix movie sparks debate over eating disorders

Aug 31, 2017

This summer, Netflix started controversy by releasing the film, To The Bone. In the movie, the main characters suffers from an eating disorder, and this sparked debate. Some people said the movie glorifies eating disorders, while others believe the movie is a great way to get people talking and spreading awareness.


Catherine Cook-Cottone, a University at Buffalo associate professor and licensed psychologist, specializes in the topic of eating disorders and is also an editor for a journal that explores the topic. She said she had obvious interest in watching the film, and she had many issues with it.

“The storyline was very unrealistic and romanticized,” said Cook-Cottone.

One of her main criticisms comes from the main character’s experience in treatment – something Michael Nelson, a junior at St. Bonaventure University, knows about first-hand.

“Recovery is absolute hell, to be frank with you,” said Nelson.

Michael Nelson (left, During her eating disorder; right, Photo taken this summer)

Nelson went on to explain the kind of mindset it took her to return to a healthy weight and a healthy way of living.

“Recovery involves a lot of trusting the people around you, and not trusting yourself, at all,” said Nelson.

“It’s confronting every serious worst fear you have, and the more you confront those fears, the louder the eating disorder voice becomes in your mind. And so, it just gets even harder.”

Nelson was diagnosed with anorexia and was forced to take a medical leave of absence from the 2105-2016 school year due to complications.

People struggling from eating disorders in Western New York have resources like the Buffalo Centre. Tracy Welchoff, Ph.D. is the executive director at the Buffalo Centre and a licensed psychologist.

The Centre was founded about 7 years ago, to give people in the Western New York area a more accessible place for help.

“Before Buffalo Centre came along, if an individual needed a higher level of care, they would have to go out of town for that because there is not anything else in the area,” said Welchoff.

Buffalo Centre Kitchen

For 7 hours, 5 days each week; patients go through group therapy sessions, group meals and other forms of therapy. Welchoff said her goal is to get people back on the right path.

“We really try to treat the whole person and help people figure out what are the obstacles, what’s going on in your life that makes it difficult to follow through with the nutrition plan. Because it’s nice to have a plan, but life gets in the way, so we try to help people figure out how to work past that,” said Welchoff.

But why do people with eating disorders need this help? In her practice, people have asked Cook-Cottone why people do not, simply, “just start eating?”

Nelson said people with eating disorders do not see what the rest of the world does. She did not see her bones sticking out, her hair falling out or her muscle wasting.

“I saw somebody who was obese,” said Nelson.

Nelson did not believe anyone at first, constantly denying she had an issue until she became weight restored.

“I think if you would have asked me if I had an eating disorder, I would have said no. In fact, I did say no. I said no many times.”

Now, Nelson is back at school and she feels she’s doing well. She believes it’s important for her to be open about her past, because not enough people know about the severity of an eating disorder.

“It has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder,” said Cook-Cottone.

Cook-Cottone and Nelson both had issues with one scene in particular from the movie, To The Bone. That scene involved a doctor saying they should let the main character hit rock bottom – something Nelson said doesn’t exist.

“I would have kept going until my body didn’t work anymore,” said Nelson.

Now, Nelson has worked hard to be able to speak about her eating disorder, because she wants people to know there is hope for recovery.

“There’s just so much life beyond an eating disorder. You can get better,” said Nelson.

For people who struggle from eating disorders, there are resources available, including The Buffalo Centre. If you know someone who may be struggling from an eating disorder, experts say it’s best to step in. Nelson noted, a malnourished mind rarely realizes there is a problem.