Friday, November 04, 2011

Another entry in the annals of Bad Ideas in Eating Disorders

is a soon-to-be-aired reality show called, I kid you not, "Starving Secrets with Tracey Gold.

The idea is that child actress-grown-up Tracey Gold, who nearly died from anorexia in her early 20s but is now married and recovered, will meet one-on-one with women suffering from eating disorders. As the show's early PR puts it, Gold will "work with women in the grips of anorexia or bulimia as she uses her own experience to reach them in ways no one else can."

Really? No one else but this particular former actress can help these women? I knew the state of treatment was bad, but not this bad.

And who the hell gave the show this title? It doesn't sound like it's designed to help. It sounds like viewers will be treated to pro-ana tips from Gold.

I'm sure that's not her intention . . . right? Someone reassure me? Because so far I'm unconvinced.

I'm not a fan of reality shows in general, especially when they purport to stage interventions or reveal long-held secrets in a very public forum designed to entertain other people. They can't help but be exploitative-that's their whole raison d'etre. But this one sounds particularly egregious.



C-Girl said...

this makes me want to scream...You are so right, they might as well title it "how to become anorexic and get on TV". In general, I cannot stand watching shows that "document" people with illnesses, except if they are entirely medical in nature... so I cannot even fathom the purpose in creating a show that publicizes people's physical and emotional struggles. Unlike in the 1980s when Tracey was suffering, there are resources on the internet for those seeking help... you don't have to air it on national television to spark unwanted thoughts in those who are NOT suffering from the illness.... I would never wish it upon anyone and I can only imagine the thoughts a show like this may put in a teenager's mind while being exposed to this "life".
Ugh... I could go on! Thank you for this post, I agree entirely!

Anonymous said...

i can only reassure you that your discomfort is there for a good reason. there are no 'gurus' in eating disorders, there is no 'secret' something that a world of people haven't experienced and/or another world are working on to try to understand eating disordered brains better.
to me, this smacks of an ego gone awry and reeks of preying on sick people and that should upset people because it's wrong.
i've been there, i've done it, i gave my power away and it didn't work---it ended up blowing up in MY FACE.
the rest i'll keep between myself and some other medium.

Scattered Marbles said...

Yeah I gotta say it doesn't sound appealing at all. i doubt it will actually be out and out pro-ana tips as that would probably cause way to much controversy. Instead it will probably be akin to what they do to us fat folks, put us in front of a camera and then try do everything they can to terrify us by giving us death threats (totally out of concern of course *drips sarcasm*), piling on shame, or pushing us in front of the guilt train by getting our loved ones involved. Whipping them into such a shame, guilt, fear spiral that they will do ANYTHING they are told to try make it all right and then once they get enough footage for a show they will drop them to fend for themselves. Just my suspicion.

Anonymous said...

this has bugged me on and off all day and i *think* i finally figured out why.

many people do things like this with the "If I can just save ONE PERSON then I'll have done what I set out to accomplish." idea.
what turns my stomach about THAT is that firstly it seems like it's really about THEM and not about helping anyone else and secondly you might very well save one person but what about all the others that could be potentially harmed?

another creepy note is that the program will air on a network with 'Entertainment' in its business name. anyone who has ever suffered, and i do NOT use that term lightly, with an eating disorder would probably not in their wildest nightmares call any of it 'entertaining.'

then again there are people who accuse me of thinking too much. to them i say when i am hitting the mark of the status quo kick my ass so i get back to where i belong. the status quo is how this kind of television hurts people.

Anonymous said...

If the eating disorder is anorexia, I'm sure they will air the thinnest people they can find. The freak-show aspect certainly grabs the viewers, doesn't it? Just look at Bigger Loser, where they get the fattest people they can find who are willing to be abused on air.
The title Starving Secrets makes the show sound like a how-to. Kind of like those magazine articles that scream "I Almost Died from Anorexia!!!" while giving very detailed tips on the methods used by the article's subject.
What in the world does ethics have to do with television programming?


meerkat said...

The best possible light I can cast that title in is a "Ha ha you thought it was pro-ana tips but we tricked you into watching with our pro-ana title and now we are going to cure you!" light.

Harriet said...

Ha! I thought of that. If it's true, it just goes to show the producers don't have a clue about eating disorders.

Anonymous said...

Actually I've seen some of this. No tips. No shame. Actually real therapy and accurate portrayals of the women's conditions. Why judge what you haven't seen?

Anonymous said...

You know, the sick mind can't understand or heal the sick mind. Contempt prior to investigation.

Harriet said...

I don't know who you are, Anonymous (I suspect you're connected with the show), but what I do know is that eating disorders are not cured in a reality show context.

Even if the therapy was real, and helpful (and you're right, I can't judge that as I haven't seen it), there would still very much be the exploitation/entertainment angle.

Further, I don't believe anyone who is acutely ill with an eating disorder can give true informed consent for anything like this.

If Tracey Gold is so keen on helping--and I'm sure she has the best intentions--there are many other ways she could do it that don't involve exploiting people who are ill.

Harriet said...

My comment above was meant for the first Anonymous.

As for the second Anonymous comment, all I can say is: What? I have no idea what you're talking about.

Steve said...

Dear Harriet,

I read your NY Times magazine piece years ago and, I believe, sent you an e-mail at the time. If you type "vitamins and anorexia" into google, a number of items pop up that assert, with solid references, that anorexia is caused by vitamin deficiency. As an advocate for anorexia prevention, I'm puzzled that you never discuss the possibility that vitamins can prevent anorexia? Are you aware of data that disproves the "vitamins prevent anorexia" assertion?


Harriet said...


If only it were that simple.

The trouble with prevention is that it's impossible to know if it works--easier to know if it fails.

I don't know of any evidence-based research that shows even a strong association between vitamin intake and anorexia prevention, let alone causation. Whereas I do know of a lot of hard science that points to underlying biology and neurobiology as primary causative agents.

Steve said...


It is not impossible to prove prevention. Vitamin C has been proven to prevent scurvy. Vaccines have been proven to prevent certain bacteria infections.

Certain behaviors are associated with Anorexia so that the prevalence of anorexia among high school female athletes is much higher. Convincing just one school to test the simple "anorexia is a vitamin deficiency disease" hypothesis might do the trick. If a highschool dropped from one to two new cases of anorexia per year amongst their female athletes to zero, that would be impressive enough to get a couple of other schools to repeat the test.

I'm completely with you about the underlying biology and neurobiology. The particular neurobiology I find to be the most promising involves thiamine. Thiamine requires special transport proteins to be absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream, and more transport proteins to get from the bloodstream into the cells. There is a thiamine supplement - TTFD - that can freely diffuse into cells without transport proteins. The other reason the vitamin hypothesis is not "simple" is that multiple vitamins are likely required for an impressive preventative result. The "prevention" being suggested requires some effort. Supplementation with sunshine or sunlamps (for the vitamin D), B-complex, niacin, and vitamin C in addition to the TTFD.

Some day a trial like this will be organized. The data will be the data, and I will rest at ease. If there is anything I could do to help organize such a trial, please let me know.


Anonymous said...

Hi Harriet;
I have not seen the mentioned program nor do I care too. Just like any reality show there will be a shock&awe factor. I can only fear what that will be.Are these people(including Tracey) really believers that a reality show of their" Starving Secrets" on anorexia,is a program made for must see TV? REALLY! TRACEY GOLD
Mother Bear caring for her CUB

Anonymous said...

i watched a 15 second preview of this and it's more than enough to let me know this isn't something i can stand to watch. one girl with an IV going, another puking and yet another with a simultaneous drug addiction with some woman yelling about how 'she needs to wake up'. sickness will make people do some interesting things including being very public about what for most is a quiet struggle but that doesn't sell television airtime. i just hope these women don't regret this later and that the help for them is lasting. seriously, 15 seconds and i'm shaking. no way could this help me and it would probably terrify anyone i'm close to, which is not helpful. there's reality then there's Hollywood rendition reality.

Harriet said...

That's what I was afraid of. I will have to make myself take a look.

I believe Tracey Gold has the very best intentions. This just seems like a terribly misguided way to enact them.

Joni said...

I agree that exploiting anyone's symptoms of any health issue, especially mental health issues, is awful. Why can't Tracey do an interview on Anderson Cooper, or Ellen? Two mainstream popular TV shows that will get her good intentions about a good cause out. I feel for the subjects who will be featured on this show. And I feel for Tracey, because I also believe she's being misguided.

My 15 year old daughter is in the midst of a recovery program. I can't imagine her wanting to subject herself to this type of publicity, but even if she did, I wouldn't allow it. She's not in a healthy frame of mind, nor is anyone who is suffering from anorexia.

I just read your book, Harriet. The similarities between your daughter and mine were mind boggling. My daughter began reading it w/o me knowing it, for just about 15 or so minutes. She had a rough night that night because she couldn't believe that 1) there is a book written about the experiences she's having right now, and 2) the similarities between her and your daughter. She doesn't know the outcome of the book, but she feared the worst based on what she'd read.
Thank you for your book. My thoughts are still with Kitty. I can't help but want to pray for her. Not only because she feels real to me, but because she reminds me so much of my daughter.

PS...and Yay for Emma. What a trooper.

Joni said...

One more thought...If I could give my daughter vitamin C, or extra vitamin D, or any vitamin to get the results Steve believes we could get, I'd be doing it. My daughter is loaded up on extra vitamins as it is. And while I have discovered the value of vitamins and other nutrition like never before, the vitamins don't seem to be the answer to recovery. What does seem to be an incredible nutritional asset is electrolytes found in Gatorade. I had always thought electrolytes, as promoted by Gatorade, was a gimmick. I now know differently, and am grateful for that colored sugar water with the magical ingredients that have kick started my daughters heart numerous times over the last 2 months.

Harriet said...

I think the National Eating Disorders Association said it all when they said, "We do not support putting people with eating disorders on television."

My best to you and your family as you fight the demon.

Beth said...

Did you watch the show? I'm very interested in your impression. I did watch it. Fell for TG's convincing promo interview on "The View." Episode 1... pretty rough to watch, but in the end, redemptive, I thought. A great success story, if it's to be believed.

Harriet said...

I didn't watch it. And I don't believe it, alas.

Bonnie said...

Hi Harret:
On the way that eating disorders were brought to the forefront by the recently telecast(which I have not seen nor care too).Has people wanting to talk again. If you review blog comments everyone seems to have a common ground regarding hope that the girls on the show recieve followup help.If there is anything that we all can agree on is that anyone with a eating disorder or disordered eating has a very long journey with this demon.
Mother bear watching her cub

Lee said...


I am currently reading your book and it's as if you are in our home. Your kitty is My daughter. I relate to so many things that I have read so far. Sometimes when I look at my daughter I don't see her, I see "It". There is no mistaking that this is not my child. Her demeanor changes. Her eyes. Her voice. It Is a Demon. But we are determined to fight this Demon. This disease has come up against the bravest and strongest thing in the world. A Mother's Love. Love can do anything. I thank you for putting your experience down on paper. I was beginning to think I was losing my mind. Maybe imagining what was going on. But you validated it for me. Thank you.

L's Mom

Harriet said...

Hang in there, Lee. It DOES GET BETTER. I promise you. It's astonishing and shocking to see how malnutrition alters our kids' lives and personalities. But I promise you, she can come back. And you're not losing your mind. You're a good mom.

Joni said...

Dear Lee,

You said it so well. There is nothing like a mother's love. Probably like you, I am managing a life that I certainly didn't ask for, yet I choose it because I will do everything I can to bring my daughter back to health. There is nothing like it, so it does feel very lonely. Continue to read and act. That will keep you alive and propel you to the next thing that needs to be done. My daughter is entering into her 11th week in a program. Every moment is monitored either by the program staff or by me, and sometimes my daughter's brother. My daughter IS improving, yet I consider her to be very fragile. I am confident we have arrived at this place because of the energy every single person has put into recovery for my child. You can get there, too. I am glad your daughter has you. It is fascinating to me that you identify your daughter so much with Kitty. I could also do that. Right down to my daughter being able to focus on algebra, and not much else! Take care,

Bonnie said...

Hi Joni and Lee
You are both strong and loving mothers. We will never let ("IT" or Demon) have our daughter's, it takes a lot of hard work and determination(prayer too).I also read Harriets book.Every word seemed like Harriet and Kitty were living our life.As mother's we need to continue to read and act.
Thanks Harriet and Kitty for telling your story.
A Mother bear caring for her cub

Joni said...

Thank you, Bonnie. In my case, prayer first, then the other follows. I could not do this w/o the hope that there is someone stronger than me who loves my daughter more than I. Each day I submerge myself into God's promises.

I want to alert others that while I am grateful for the program that we were able to access and get good help, as well as coverage by insurance, it is not perfect. We must be incredibly connected to our children. A program is in no way a replacement for us. A program hosts other patients who are struggling, and it can be toxic to a patient to walk through this with other patients who are at different stages in their commitment to health. It's exhausting to balance all of the variables in this experience. These are words of advice for others who are trying to figure out what's the best approach for them. I don't know if there is a "best approach." Just an approach. Like I said earlier, read and stay active. Regardless of the road one chooses, it's still a road toward recovery, and in that effort one can't go wrong.


Bonnie said...

Dear Joni
There is some truth in your words about the programs.They can be very toxic at different stages. It is so very hard to keep the connection with our child when the ("IT" or Demon) is grabbing hold so strongly in so many undesirable ways. A mother must stay strong. Harriet's blog and book has made my days a bit more knowledgable and hopeful.
Mother bear looking after her cub

Harriet said...

We've experienced both good and bad from programs--sometimes from the same one. Even from good ones. I think each person needs something different every step of the way, and part of our job as parents is to watch and monitor and make sure our child is being helped and not triggered by whatever program s/he is in.

My best to both of you and your families at this difficult time of year.

Joni said...

Hi Harriet, Do you mind telling us how Kitty is doing now? I don't know if that is something you've been sharing on going, but since I'm new to the site and don't monitor it consistently, I don't know where Kitty is in her recovery...or if you're sharing that.

Thanks so much.


Harriet said...

I promised Kitty I wouldn't write about her in great detail anymore, but I don't think she'd mind me saying that she's doing much much better. She's in college, doing well socially, and while she still has things to work on, she's light years away from the girl I described in the book.

While recovery is ongoing for her right now, and while it's taken a lot longer than I hoped, I feel good about where she's at now and where she's heading, and I think she does too.

Thank you for asking.