Travel Editor Olivia Woodington breaks down another insightful Louis Theroux documentary as he returns to our shores to investigate the impact of Anorexia Nervosa
“What’s it like being here?” Louis Theroux questions a patient on the Phoenix Wing at St. Ann’s hospital, “like prison!” is the response shouted by another inpatient on the unit. Talking to Anorexia is Louis Theroux’s latest documentary shown on BBC Two on Sunday night. After a few weeks investigating Dark States, he returns to our screens, having touched down in the UK, this time Theroux is exposing the world’s most fatal psychological disorder, Anorexia.
In his usual state of curiosity, Louis meets women from London’s two largest eating disorder clinics, young and old, receiving treatment for Anorexia Nervosa and discusses with them what it’s really like to be plagued by a disease still so misunderstood. As always, Louis conducts his interviews with sensitivity and insight. We meet Rosie, a young woman whose emotional and physical progress Theroux follows throughout the documentary. She explains that the unit’s recovery program requires life on the ward to be under military like supervision; three meals a day, three snacks a day, limited physical activity, supervised trips to the toilet and thorough examinations as well as fortnightly progress meetings. Having previously lost both her sight and hearing as a result of her dangerously low weight, Rosie appears to be the most determined woman, when it comes to recovery, that Theroux meets at the time of filming.
Janet, aged 63, was first diagnosed with the disease in her 30’s. She has found that anorexia has not only destroyed her relationship with food, but also her relationships with the people she’s loved. For lunch, anorexia limits Janet to half a small cracker, which she then feels she must burn off, but the she allows herself one chocolate on the first day of every month and a little bit of ice cream; her face lights up as she discloses this to Louis. What many people cease to understand with the disease, is that sufferers of anorexia often are great lovers of food. Though it may be the cause of some of their greatest fear, it can also be the source of immense happiness. This not only makes the illness difficult for a non-sufferer to understand, but also seems somewhat contradictory. Through his interviews, Theroux effectively conveyed that anorexia is not a physical illness but truly is a mental one, and because of this, there is no definitive cause or typical candidate, it can prey on anyone.
He meets 28-year-old Jess, who has been in and out of the inpatient unit for the last 6 years. First diagnosed at 19, she acknowledges the shameful feeling associated with her habits, such as the need to do 2,000 star jumps a day. Likewise, 23-year-old Ifzana, seems almost in denial of her depleting health. We as viewers see it clearly, but for sufferers of the disease, their condition can be far from obvious.
“I am under no illusion I am attractive as I am now or if I lost weight, but I still want to lose weight. It’s not about being attractive”, says Jess. By banishing common misconceptions, to date, this has been one of television’s most truthful portrayal of a life lived with anorexia. Viewers are confronted with the harsh reality of the disease. There is no quick fix recovery method, and telling a sufferer to “just eat” is by no means helpful. Theroux uncovers the way that the eating disorder affects not only the patient but also their family and friends and explores the tremendous difficulty they face trying to support their loved ones. The need for control, stress, media pressure and emotional trauma can all provoke disordered eating behavior. Theroux chooses not to overly pry, instead, he offers a pillar of support for the women he talks to, empathy and understanding come above his journalistic curiosity in this installment to his ream of controversial documentaries.
A discussion long overdue, Talking to Anorexia is a documentary that is informative, devastating, complicated and though not without some flaws, it is above all, important.
If you or anyone you know has been affected by the topics discussed in this program, Beat Eating Disorders charity’s helpline is 0808 801 0677 or visit their website for more information- https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/