Actress Candace Cameron recently revealed her past struggle with bulimia in her new book (click here to read CNN article). I have yet to read her book, and I don’t claim to know anything about her story of bulimia and recovery except for what can be gleaned from brief quotes that were repeated in all the articles that broke this story. These quotes are very telling – both about Cameron’s experience and the way the media portrays eating disorders.
“[Bulimia] is a very dangerous cycle that can just start to consume your life and really take over,” Cameron said. “It wasn’t about me trying to lose weight. It was all about emotions.”
In Brain over Binge, I talk about how the view of eating disorders as symptoms of emotional problems or as ways to cope with emotions is widespread in society. This story of Cameron is just one example of how the media perpetuates this idea. If viewing her bulimia as a symptom of emotional problems or as a coping mechanism helped Cameron recover, then great. That view of bulimia does help some people. But, I believe it can harm more people than it helps.
Imagine a young bulimic who is just getting caught up in (to use Cameron’s own words) the “very dangerous cycle” of bulimia, but has no idea why she feels so compelled to binge and purge. Seeing an article about a beautiful 34-year-old star who says her bulimia was “all about emotions” could be very influential to that young bulimic. She may start trying to decipher if her bulimia is, in fact, all about emotions too; and she may take the first step on a long journey of self-discovery to try to figure out and solve the emotional issues that supposedly drive her bulimia. This journey could end up like Cameron’s, with her becoming a happy, fulfilled, successful person who has “physical and spiritual fitness” as Cameron’s book subtitle says (In other words, she could become an example of what I termed the “butterfly tale of recovery” in my book). Or her journey could go on indefinitely, with endless self-searching and learning how to get in touch with her emotions while she continues to feed the habit of bulimia and strengthens all the neural pathways that maintain it.
The “emotional” view of bulimia simply isn’t practical or effective for many; but the media doesn’t offer any alternative perspectives. I hope to do my part in changing that.