Okay, y’all. I know that To The Bone is getting a lot of mainstream coverage right now, but in my humble [eating disorder survivor] opinion, let’s forget about that movie and focus on the one that should be getting all of the attention: Feed.
Feed is a film written by Troian Bellisario, an actress most known for her role as Spencer in Pretty Little Liars. The movie is based off of Troian’s own experience with an eating disorder during her high school and college years. In an interview, Troian discusses how the movie is not the exact events of her life (she didn’t have a twin brother who died), but is more to help audiences understand what it “sounds like and feels like” to live with anorexia.
Y’all, I’ve seen a lot of eating disorder movies during my time (holla at all the old school Lifetime movies (so triggering omg I do not recommend)), but I am confident in saying that I think that this is the best movie about eating disorders that I have ever seen. It addresses the reality of living with the disorder without romanticizing behaviors and it accurately shows what the process of reaching recovery is like.
** Warning: spoiler alerts ahead!! **
In the movie, Troian plays Olivia, the 18-year-old twin to Matthew. Olivia and Matthew are inseparable. They do everything together, they have the same friends, and their dreams are connected. Olivia is extremely smart and has a lot of pressure on her to get accepted into Yale and keep up her valedictory status. Her eating disorder had already begun on a smaller scale, but became more rampant when Matthew suddenly passes away in a car accident.
Now this is where the movie gets confusing/realistic/the best thing ever. After her brother dies, she continues to have visions of him being with her and talking to her. At first I was confused by this because “ghost Matthew” gets increasingly meaner and meaner to Olivia throughout the movie. At first, Matthew is there and it’s simple “I miss you” conversations, but it quickly escalates to him yelling at her when she tries to open up to people and coercing her to jump off her balcony. He was also then with her constantly while she was inpatient, telling her that it was her fault that they were stuck there and that he wanted to leave. I was honestly weirded out by this, but then it hit me. GHOST MATTHEW IS ACTUALLY OLIVIA’S EATING DISORDER.
Okay, now you’re probably even more confused, but bear with me. Matthew was a safe person for Olivia. They studied together and helped carry one another’s burdens. They never did anything alone. So after Matthew was gone, she needed something to fill that void. To help carry her burdens and be her friend and her best coping skill. So boom. Eating disorder. An eating disorder often takes the figure of being something safe and comfortable. A voice that can seem so trustworthy and safe that ends up being so extremely toxic. It often cloaks itself in a disguise as something else, which I think Feed showed really well by portraying Olivia’s eating disorder as her deceased brother. She wanted to trust him and do everything he said for so long, but finally during one of her counseling sessions while she was inpatient, everything snapped.
During her session, Olivia is trying to make a revelation to her therapist, but her brother (eating disorder) is screaming at her to lie and say that she’s fine and that she’ll gain weight and that she’ll do whatever her treatment team wants. He tells her that she will be nothing without him and that he hates her, which sounds a lot like Ed tbh. Finally ghost Matthew tells her that he will take her away with him, but through her sobs she says, “You’re not. You’re not. You’re not because you’re not my brother.” YES, GIRLFRIEND, YES. And then her “brother” walks out of the room with his head down like shoot she found me out she knows I’m Ed not Matthew. HECK YEA. She had lived her entire life with her twin brother by her side, but now he’s gone and she had to find something to feel like he was still there. So losing her eating disorder is so extremely painful for her because it feels like she’s losing her brother too. She finally made the connection that it wasn’t really her brother’s voice, but that it was her eating disorder disguising it self as something trustworthy.
This is the reality for a lot of eating disorders. Granted, most eating disorder sufferers do not have a deceased twin brother, but the story is still the same. The eating disorder takes the form as something comfortable and trustworthy, which makes it even more painful to let go of it. And you can’t even recognize it as a problem yourself because you trust it so much. It’s such a big sticky web of misplaced trust! And I think that Feed did a really good job of accurately portraying it in an artistic way. No other movie (that I’ve seen) has touched on this idea in that way, so I think that its unique approach is what makes it so incredibly accurate, even if slightly confusing at first (because hey, Olivia was confused about it all too! We were kinda living in her brain with her).
One other thing that I loved about Feed was that it didn’t focus on behaviors or numbers or weight loss or her body or anything like that. Yes, it shows Olivia restricting meals and going on runs, but that is not the main focus of the movie by any means. The focus of the movie is on her relationship with ghost Matthew, aka her eating disorder. I like this focus because it focuses on the part of the eating disorder that everyone can relate to – the voice inside your head. Everyone has different struggles with behaviors and weights and whatnot, but we all struggle with the eating disorder voice. So I think it was really cool to just kinda throw away all the “symptom” stuff and focus on the actual root of the disorder.
I’m not a therapist or an expert, but as a recovery individual who has gone through treatment and the lows of an eating disorder and also the windy path of recovery, I highly recommend and endorse this movie. With all things, practice safe watching and self-care. It is an eating disorder movie, so there will be triggering parts to those who also suffer with an eating disorder. But I think it is done in a tasteful way that is as least triggering as possible with absolutely no romanticizing of the disorder or behaviors. Know yourself, and take care of yourself. If you know that you will be triggered by the movie, please do not watch it. If you are unsure, watch it with a safe person and have a plan in place to turn the movie off if it becomes overwhelming. Recommend this movie to your loved ones to help them understand eating disorders better. Get this movie out there. If there is any eating disorder movie that needs to be getting mainstream coverage, it’s this one.
In an article that Troian wrote for the NEDA website about the movie, she says, “Feed is meant to be a dark ride, and just the beginning of what I think is a very important conversation—a conversation that will hopefully lead to more people getting the help they deserve. Don’t get me wrong, I think it can be immensely powerful to shine a light into the dark, but maybe it can be just as powerful to walk into it and let your eyes adjust. That, to me, is how we find our own way out.” (PS, read the entire article. It is SO good.)