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"To The Bone" Review

"To The Bone" Review

“To The Bone”   


There is nothing new about the depiction of mental illness through film or television.  “Mental illness” is a part of the human condition.  The history of any person’s individual struggle with mental illness is as varied and complex as our fingerprints.


Anorexia, a subset of eating disorders, is no exception.


The film “To The Bone” featuring Lily Collins and Keanu Reeves, depicts one young woman’s struggle with anorexia and one doctor’s unconventional approach to treatment.


First, let me play amateur film critic: I was disappointed in the lack of depth and artistry.  The content provides any writer or artist a rich palette of emotions, relationships, Self, and healing practices to draw from—but it fell flat for me—surface level. In many ways, the film felt anorexic—starved of deep feeling. I was hungry for more.


Other people’s critique of the film is that it re-enforces dangerous stereotypes of what an anorexic “looks like.” I concur.  There is a popular image of the bony, attractive, and sullen Caucasian female that most people imagine when they think of an “anorexic.” Most clients I have treated, even the ones who are entering into ketosis (when the kidneys begin failing) or brady-chardia (dangerously low heart rate), wouldn’t be recognizable by any of these outward measures. Sometimes, they are the “most attractive” person in the room. This is especially true here in Orange County, CA—where the practices of “eating clean” and exercise are part of the rituals of the new religious paradigm—the Religion of Thinness (Michelle Lelwica). I saw anex-client of mine the other day at a concert—she is stunning and does not appear “bony”—she often models for high fashion photography spreads.  Her struggle in therapy was her fear that if she began to eat what her body wanted, her body would likely change. She was in quite a catch-22 when it came to letting go of her eating disorder.  It’s never about food.


One thing the film gets right: it is very educational.  It demonstrates the basics of eating disorder behaviors—from rituals at the table, eating strange foods, exercise compulsion, and the absolute terror of eating.  Most family members that I have worked with are genuinely confused about what is going on and often overlook behaviors simply because they don’t know what to look for. They are lost.


The doctor’s approach to treatment was beneficial—he did not use the conventional “meal plan” approach. He gave patients total control over their food intake but gave consequences for not reaching weight goals. A critique I have of most eating disorder treatment centers is that they feel very controlling.  Unwittingly, most centers re-create a negative interaction between client and food by “punishing” certain behaviors and rewarding others—specifically at the table.  Most centers are not psycho-dynamically oriented; they do not see that their approach re-enforces the problematic schema in the patient’s mind.  Conversely, I have found that a warm, connected, attachment oriented approach to most ED clients is highly beneficial.  A calm, non-judgmental attitude does wonders for the highly anxious client.  When the treatment provider stops being anxious about the client’s eating disorder, the client can begin to get curious about their behaviors and sometimes symptoms abate spontaneously. The trouble is that this process happens on the clients’ timeline—not the therapists’ or the family’s. I have had many a family member terminate treatment or demand treatment to be different because it’s not “happening fast enough” so therefore, something must be wrong. But as we saw in the film, Ellen only got better when she decided to get better.  This is usually because at the heart of an eating disorder is the assertion that “my body is mine.”


I would have loved to have this theme explored more in the film—it was touched on briefly by Luke, when he asked Ellen if she was ever “touched wrong.” In my experience, even if a client was never sexually abused, most of my female clients have internalized the patriarchal attitude towards the feminine—which is to diminish its existence—to control it—to subdue it—to minimize its wildness—and, her sexuality.  The “mother/whore” complex is thriving. I see it everyday in my practice.


The history of Western civilization for the past two thousand years has been vicious towards the female body because of its association with sex, blood, and childbirth. It is connected to nature and Her ways and cannot be thwarted or controlled.  The female body changes with every week, every month, every year—it has many moods and seasons—and is constantly in flux. The female body has been maligned for its ever-changing ways. The body—both male and female—has been subject to Hellenistic dualism and has suffered the consequences of elevating the “mind” over the body.


Fortunately, thanks to science and an evolving theological landscape, Western thought is moving towards a synchrony of mind and body—those of us that study the body and mind are now saying it is more accurate to say we have a body/mind—because the neural networks that extend throughout the body, transmit messages to the brain. Most of our neurotransmitters are made in the gut—which is why when we are “emotional.” our ability to eat normally is impaired.


There was a scene that brought me to tears. The scene captured the complex and at times uncomfortable aspects of treatment: the scene where Ellen’s mother asks if she would like to be bottle fed. Initially, Ellen bristles—but then softens at her mother’s offering. Her mother cradles her twenty year old daughter like an infant and begins to feed her. And Ellen receives nourishment from her mother.  After this scene, Ellen decides to return to treatment. Although the movie depicted this important psychological move too swiftly for reality, it demonstrated a key principle: which is that we learn how to care for ourselves by the way others care for us.  Ellen decided to begin feeding herself after being fed. It really is that simple.

Losing Jewelry and Becoming Beautiful

Losing Jewelry and Becoming Beautiful

I became more beautiful as I began to honor the truth of who I was. As I settled into the tenderness of my grief, the fierceness of my rage, the excitement of my hope, the audacity of my courage, and the preciousness of my love, my heart could more clearly be seen by those around me--and hearts--both yours and mine--are INHERENTLY beautiful and magnetic.

#10—Nurture your Connections: How to have Positive Body Image (Continued)

#10—Nurture your Connections: How to have Positive Body Image (Continued)

“A healthy woman is much like a wolf: robust, chock-full, strong life force, life-giving, territorially aware, inventive, loyal, roving. Yet, separation from the wildish nature causes a woman’s personality to become meager, thin, ghostly…we are not meant to be puny with frail hair and inability to leap up, inability to chase, to birth, to create life. When women’s lives are in stasis, ennui, it is always time for the wildish woman to emerge.”
 –Clarissa Pinkola Estes

If you hate your body, it is because you are disconnected from your natural state. You have forgotten (or never learned) how to connect in a way that is life-giving. Women who feel connected to their tribe do not consider the size of their dress to be a problem. It is only when she feels worried about being loved or cared for that she begins to think about these things. 

Embrace your natural role as a connector, a nurturer, and a lover. Nurture the people around you and your relationship with God. It is said that "God is Love." Turn your mind towards the great Lover. Marianne Williamson talks about love like this, "love is energy. It's not something we can perceive with our physical senses, but people can usually tell you when they feel it and when they don't...fear is to love as darkness is to light." (Return to Love, p. 21). When we meditate on love instead of fear, then we can move forward in loving those around us. Loving thoughts are the foundation on which healthy relationships and communities are built. Love is a balance of giving and receiving.

Love yourself. I am always surprised by how difficult this is for women. They will tell me, "it feels selfish." Unless you are nurturing your relationship with yourself, you will be giving to others from an empty well.  Become your own best lover. How can you teach someone else how to love you if you don't know how to love yourself? Drink in the beauty of your curves. Your creative power.  Your strength. Buy yourself flowers. Buy yourself silky lingerie. Go on the trip you've always wanted to go on. Speak kindly to yourself. 

Love your children. Love is not planning the perfect cupcakes for their birthday party because you are afraid you will be judged for not having perfect cupcakes. Just stop and look at them. Drink in the deliciousness of their sparkly eyes, marvel the transformation from pooping loaves of bread to fast, spunky, sassy creatures that make your head spin.  How often do they say, “watch me! Watch me!” It is so hard to “just” watch. We are constantly pulled into the how-to lists and to-do lists and all that is always undone. The wild wolf mama has no concern about appearances and does not use her children for her own ego. She is concerned about her children's survival when she is gone. 

Love your female friends--your sisters. Form deep bonds that are forged from the fires. Talk late into the night about anything and everything. Dance with them. Hug them. Text them simple emoticons that let them know you are thinking about them. Do not compete or compare with the beautiful feminine soul that calls you her friend.  Compliment each other without reserve. Delightedly exclaim how beautiful she is--even, and especially when she is falling apart. The wild woman knows she needs her sisters and never tears them down. 

Love your brothers. Don’t be afraid to accept them as friends and partners on this journey of life. They want to stand by you, protect you, and help you. For too long men and women have been adversaries. And it’s true—I know—we have all been hurt by mean men at some point in our lifetime as women. But shutting them out (as a gender) only perpetuates the problem. I’m not saying be nice to mean people. No. The wild woman always growls when her territory is being invaded or members of her pack are being threatened.  Re-new the idea of a deep friendship with men.

Love your lover. He* longs to be wild just like you.  Do not get in his way or try to tame him. Because of our fear, we have not honored their desire to protect, to serve and to fight for and with us.  We have pushed men away. Receive from him. Let him rove like you want to rove. Open your heart to him. Believe that he wants to love you. Reward him with your affections without fear. Feel the euphoria of his arms around you; surrender to the feelings. When you do, you will discover the heart of a warrior. 

If you do these things, you will feel the bliss of your life.  You will forget about the size of your jeans. Let love fill you up.

(Wolf art by Travis Parr--a top sheet for Icelantic Ski company. For more of his work please visit and

*I speak from a heterosexual perspective, only because I am heterosexual and I am most comfortable speaking from that orientation; however, I believe these ideas can be interchangeable—namely, the issue of trying to “control” our mates.