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Seasons four and five of The Crown show glimpses of Princess Diana’s struggle with bulimia, an illness that receives little understanding from the Royal Family. On top of the shame and misunderstanding Diana most likely faced, there are also problematic phrases like, ‘A bit more exercise will shift this weight’ – a cringe-worthy statement made by the Queen at the start of season five.
Whether or not the Queen said this, so many say similar things each day and, in doing so, normalise eating disorder culture. Using exercise to burn fat or to justify what we eat can create an extremely triggering environment for those struggling with an eating disorder.
And there are more people struggling than you might think. Eating disorders almost trebled between 2007 and 2019, before the pandemic saw a further rise in cases. An NHS survey in 2022 showed that around three in five of those aged 17 to 23 possibly struggle with eating problems – among women, that goes up to three in four.*
Eating disorders are still massively stigmatised. They’re seen as a phase, a lifestyle choice, or a vanity exercise. The way Diana’s bulimia is portrayed only adds to this stigma: it’s depicted as something that’s easily switched on and off, not something which causes daily suffering. As someone who has lived with anorexia for over half my life, I can say first-hand that eating disorders not only affect people of any size and age, but they also take over every waking moment.
But all too often, Christians presume they’re either exempt from eating disorders or that remembering to ‘love our bodies’ is enough. Church events are constantly surrounded by food, making it harder for those with eating disorders to join in – sharing menus beforehand, or bringing those affected by eating disorders into planning, might help.
As disciples, I believe we need to step up and do more. In the Gospels, we read story after story of Jesus walking with the broken and marginalised, sitting with them in their pain and lovingly leading them towards healing. How might we follow him in doing this for those affected by eating disorders?
From avoiding diet chat, to not shying away from talking about eating disorders, we need to bring these conversations into the light, checking in with one another – only then can people heal. We don’t have to be experts to talk about eating disorders; we simply need to avoid sitting in judgement, and instead listen, and love.
Author and Mental Health Campaigner. Find her @HopeVirgo
*As the survey states, ‘this does not mean that the young person had a clinically impairing eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, but indicates an increased likelihood of broader problems or difficulties with eating.’
Image courtesy of Netflix