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Oprah Plans Reality Show on Eating Disorders

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Maggie Baumann, M.A.:Will this show help treat eating disorders ... or promote them?

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Since I work in the eating disorder field, I try to stay on top of breaking news regarding the awareness, prevention and treatment of eating disorders.

It was recently announced by the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) -- a new cable TV channel set to launch January 1, 2011 -- that it will debut a number of health, home and relationship series, including "Inside Rehab" -- an eight-episode docu-series about the treatment of eating disorders.

The reality show will be set within an eating-disorder treatment facility, providing viewers with an inside peek into the lives of patients being treated for eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. "Inside Rehab" will follow a group of patients as they undergo a 42-day recovery program.

We've seen shows that promote the "interventions" that get eating-disorder patients to treatment. This show goes one step further and will give real-life accounts of patients in treatment and how they navigate the very rough road of recovery. Eating-disorder experts suggest that full recovery from an eating disorder can take as long as seven years, so obviously the patients who'll be featured on "Inside Rehab" will be just starting their journeys toward health and recovery.

In a statement, OWN's chief creative officer, Lisa Erspamer, said, "'Inside Rehab' takes viewers into the world of eating disorders in a raw and transformative way. Whether you have issues with food or know someone who does, this series offers perspective, hope and the possibility to see food-based issues in a new light."

Maybe Oprah felt compelled to include this series in the OWN debut lineup in January because of the personal and public struggles she herself has had with weight issues for many years.

The Pros and Cons
As a therapist, I can see both sides of the coin when it comes to the benefits and detriments that a program like "Inside Rehab" could have on both the patients being treated and the viewers who tune in.

The upside (I assume) is that some very ill patients who may not otherwise have the funds will receive free treatment at their facility of choice, thanks to OWN. This could make a tremendous difference in the lives of the patients treated. In fact, it could save lives.

However, it's tough for patients in recovery at a treatment center to be under lights and cameras, to share the shame and destruction of their disorder and be vulnerable enough to open their lives under a public microscope. Recovery is a very private matter, and some of these patients could be harmed by the process of participating, through the negative exposure that could develop during filming or after the airdate.

Now let's look at the viewers of the program. "Inside Rehab" could provide an enormous amount of education and awareness about eating disorders, along with information on the ins and outs of how treatment works. I am sure this is the mission of the show's producers.

Yet the downside is, people with eating disorders often "feed off" other people with eating disorders. In other words, there's always competition among those with this disease to be the thinnest or best at it. The show could indeed trigger people to develop disordered eating or even eating disorders, if they are already vulnerable to this disease.

People Weigh In
One of the articles I came across as I researched "Inside Rehab" appeared online on April 29, 2010, at Entertainment Weekly. Many readers posted their personal views on the potentially controversial docu-series. Here are a few posts that I thought were noteworthy:

"Spike" said,"I think this is a great idea. People should know of the severity of eating disorders, and know it's not a silly indulgence to be skinny, or beautiful, but a full-on disease .... New facts would be nice; it's not about just beauty, not just about dancers, models and athletes. Let's do the research needed. Also, there should be an insider's point of view on issues like how insurance companies see this disease, what they cover and what they don't cover ...."

"Katie" said,"I don't think this is a good idea;eating disorders should be private, recovery especially for an anorectic [sic] .... Publicizing weight gain and having people watching and commenting can fuel an anorectic [sic] to stay at a low weight or drop even further. [Documentaries] cement the idea that the eating disorder is a [worthy] role, an identity they can don for sympathy and self-worth .... I do not think personal documentaries are helpful unless the individual has fully recovered. Seriously, this is a dangerous playground -- the human mind. Tread carefully. [Oprah] may not realize she is doing more trouble than intended."

What are your thoughts on airing "Inside Rehab"?


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34 comments so far | Post a comment now
Melissa May 25, 2010, 3:21 AM

I think this can be VERY dangerous. Both to those who think they understand, those who actually DO understand, and those who don’t. Even to somebody who already HAD an eating disorder, being in treatment facility often can, in addition to receiving help, provide some very bad habits that you didn’t go in with. If you are on the VERGE of an eating disorder, information isn’t necessarily your friend. The people involved in them… well it’s a mind game, so having lights, camera, action …. I’m not so sure THAT’S healthy.

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Danielle May 25, 2010, 5:59 AM

If I had health insurance I’d be forking more than I would pay out of pocket. I guess when 60% of Americans are morbidly obese….they need health insurance because what they lack in motivation, health insurance makes up for.

Nicole May 25, 2010, 2:35 PM

My stepdaughter is anorexic and actually applied to be a part of this documentary, but I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it would be wonderful for her to obtain free inpatient treatment. We have her covered under our health insurance and we currently have her in outpatient therapy. However, I really believe that she needs inpatient treatment. But, all of the inpatient facilities I can find are out of network, which means that we would have to pay about $10,000 out of pocket for her treatment. We just can’t afford that. But, I am definitely concerned about her trying to seek help on a very private issue, while constantly being surrounded by cameras. I just don’t know if that type of environment will be conducive to her getting healthy or not.

Patty May 25, 2010, 7:05 PM

I am a recovering Anorexic and have been in and out of inpatient treatments. I know the cost of coverage all to well when I had to leave treatment just when I started doing good because my insurance wouldn’t cover anymore. I have had more outpatient then inpatient for that very reason. I am a middle age woman who struggles to this day because of lack of proper medical care while counselors are great there is only so much they can do in a 60minute session once a week. I have mixed feelings about what Oprah is doing while I feel happy and enveious that these girls are getting inpatient treatment free and much needed care..I also know all to well the competition and mind games that are so invoveled. I believe Oprah is doing this for the good however I feel it is going to be very dangerous..there are better ways to get awareness out there through the media without going on this inpatient rehab journey…not such a good idea..I am frightened myself to watch just knowing it can trigger my own desires for bone thin again!

Becky May 27, 2010, 4:17 PM

I an 30 and have been anorexic for a few years now. I went to a 60 day inpatient treatment center about 2 years ago but, although there was some progress at first, I did relapse. I also have applied to be past of this docu-drama for the lack of med insur/free treatment prospect. I pulled out of the application process though when I got to the creation of the video diary. Creating one on your own time in your home is part of the process and it really made me realize just how public this action would make my personal recovery…I want my recovery to work this time and, although I really like the idea of being informative to others about EDs, I didn’t want to jeopardize my own success by making it close-up for the world to scrutinize.

On that note though there ARE other reduced or free treatment facilities out there. It may take a little research but it IS possible to get a good treatment experience without going public with it for free. One place I found is Columbia University’s ED research center…its worth checking out.

Kayla May 28, 2010, 8:13 PM

This sounds like a really bad idea. I am almost 19 and have suffered from an eating disorder for about 3 years and had more mild eating issues for some time before that. As a kid, I saw some documentary about eating disorders, and I was fascinated. It talked about the horrible consequences, the death rates, etc., but as a child, you either don’t understand, don’t believe or choose to ignore all that. None of that stuff mattered, because all I saw was a great idea. I took that idea, ran with it and ended myself up in a hole that I haven’t been able to get out of ever since. Perhaps, this is supposed to educate the public or something, but god forbid a vulnerable child happens to be watching this. Apart from this, the whole idea seems rather absurd to me- inside rehab? Why is that something that is appropriate to show the public. Treatment and therapy is supposed to be private, and this won’t educate the public. Mental illness is a hard thing to understand and no television program can make someone understand an eating disorder. It can say all the right things, but for someone who hasn’t had one, they’re not going to come out, all of sudden getting what it’s all about. I certainly didn’t. Terrible idea.

Brittany June 1, 2010, 8:50 PM

i completely disagree with this television show.
It will trigger people on the verge of an eating disorder to get different ideas and methods in there head that will not be helpful in the end.
I myself was in a american treatment center in flordia, i came there from canada. If it was me who was being involved in this series my recovery wouldnt be as successful as it is today. And guaranted if i watched that series i would fall off the path i have taken and become drawn into my bad habits again. I do not recommend this show and i am completely against it.

Anonymous June 2, 2010, 9:03 AM

“Inside Rehab,” in my opinion, is one of the most creative and brilliant things that Oprah could ever have done. I see both sides of this argument; however, this truly is a win/win situation.
How many times have you heard or known someone who desperately needs help but can’t afford it or doesn’t have insurance? Too many. This is an opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for people to get the help they both need and deserve. Yes, it will be hard for people to look at the transformation of their bodies (anorexic or not), but isn’t that the whole point? To be able, at the end of the day, to make peace with ones body?
I wake up everyday and PRAY that I can find that peace. That I can end the war I have waged on my body.
Whether or not the journey to recovery is aired or not, it’s a journey worth providing to those who seek recovery.

Kaylin June 2, 2010, 10:26 AM

I’ve been undergoing treatment for an eating disorder for a little over a year and a half. It has been a struggle in my life for about 10 years now. I saw this post and was horrified. I am afraid that something of this nature may glamorize eating disorders and cause people to experiment with eating disordered behaviors which can be wildly addicting and dangerous. It is an extremely delicate issue- done well, there is a chance that it could provide hope and support for those struggling, as well as increasing awareness (I beleive the biggest problem is insurance related restrictions on treatment). However, I fear for those which a program like this could tip over into full blown eating disorders. If it goes through, I can only hope that it will do more good than damage.

Molly June 3, 2010, 7:59 PM

I am totally against this. Recovery is so extremely personal, and what Oprah might not understand is that everyone’s recovery process is different than another’s. I don’t understand why she needs to send cameras into a hospital, because I for one, don’t need a chat forum set up online somewhere talking about how my weight is doing or how sick I am. I don’t like how in order for a person to get help with the disease, they have to be a lab-mouse under the microscope of the rest of the country. Recovery just sometimes really hard and painful… especially at the beginning. I think that some things are left unseen.
I feel this type of “Inside” documentary could potentially SCARE those with EDs into not seeking treatment! I just don’t think Oprah gets it; how people with EDs often become competitive with the sufferers on TV. People with eating disorders tend to risk everything for that one coping mechanism, and set aside all the possible health risks, which they are completely aware of.
I like the idea behind it… Oprah raising awareness and giving treatment for free… But why have the cameras zone in on the sick patients? Can we document a RECOVERED eating disordered person, and not glamorize the whole thing of being on tv for “being sick”?? Isn’t recovery supposed to be a POSITIVE thing?
I think a better move for Oprah would be to create a “LOVE YOUR BODY” type of workshop for people all over the country. Now THAT I would watch! Let’s shed some light on how to feel confident, and unique and wonderful, and leave the rehab processes private!

Lily July 18, 2010, 8:10 PM

Eating disorders and the treatment of them is not a drama or some sort of fictional reality show. It’s not glamourous, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. Period. The viewers RARELY see behind the scenes, and only the “best” and “most shocking” cuts are shown. It’s also most often edited for higher viewer ratings. (I say this because I have a few friends who were on similar documentaries, and they deeply regret it.)

Anyway, as a side note, “anorectic” is not spelled incorrectly. Please see the definition of “anorectic” here: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/anorectic

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