27 Aug 2018

Disorder documentary shares young people's experience of eating disorders

From Nights, 9:08 pm on 27 August 2018

A new documentary made by young Kiwi film-makers will resonate with the thousands of New Zealanders who have lived through an eating disorder.

The short 12-minute documentary, Disorder, by director Miryam Jacobi and producer Olivia Mahood shares the experience of seven young people who have struggled through eating disorders of one kind or another.

You can watch the film here:

Miryam joined one of those seven young people, Claudia Stewart, in the studio and told Nights' Paul Brennan there's a lot of shame and stigma associated with eating disorders.

"I've known a lot of people in my life affected by an eating disorder. I went to an all-girls high school, and I felt like it wasn't a conversation that was being had in the public domain," Miriam says.

"I felt like people didn't know how to talk about it, if they knew someone who might have been suffering they didn't know what to say - they might crack a really bad joke or say something harmful."

She says it was her idea to do the documentary on a deadly phenomenon that's a bit taboo.

"I really wanted to bring a human voice to what the emotional experience of living with an eating disorder is like, and make it relatable, because it is.

"We all know what it feels like to look in the mirror and not like what we see, we all know what it's like to have someone say 'maybe you should lay off the biscuits'.

"Often people think of eating disorders and think of one thing or one type of person and I really wanted to change that." 

Where to get help: 

Eating Disorders Association of NZ: Freephone 0800 233 269

She says there's no clear specific cause of eating disorders, but instead a wide variety that probably depends on culture and personality.

"A lot of the common factors can be a-type personality, low self esteem, often people who have been bigger as children.

"In terms of scientific research it's very varied and there's no one trigger.

"It can be one moment ... people who have been in recovery, have recovered, it can be one comment from a co-worker at their shared morning tea about not eating the sausage rolls or eating too many sausage rolls, it can be that simple."

Disorder is one of the Someday Stories series of sustainability-focused short films by emerging young film-makers from Aotearoa New Zealand. It has been created by Auckland-based production company Two One One Three Creatives, and is scheduled for release on August 27.

Disorder is one of the Someday Stories series of sustainability-focused short films by emerging young film-makers from Aotearoa New Zealand. It has been created by Auckland-based production company Two One One Three Creatives, and is scheduled for release on August 27. Photo: Jeremy Toth

She says one of the ways eating disorders affect people is through body dysmorphia, an inability to physically see and comprehend how your body actually looks.

The experience Claudia describes is confronting but easy to imagine.

"Everyone told me I was looking skinny and all I could see when I looked in the mirror was 'no, I'm looking bigger' or 'oh no, this little bit of fat', and when I did see myself as skinny I'd just see it as disgusting and I still wanted to change myself.

"I didn't want to be bigger, I didn't want to be skinnier, I didn't want to be where I was, I just didn't know.

"Stuff on the internet saying 'this is what you need to be like' or 'this is a good diet to follow', which is crazy because, what is a good diet these days?

"I was always getting comments and I didn't know what I needed to be.

"You know, you'd play basketball and they'd be like 'you're the tallest in the team' and even if they weren't saying you're fat or bigger you just see it as 'different' and that's not a very nice thing."

Claudia says she hopes the film will help people confront their own eating disorders, something she herself struggled to do.

"Eating disorders, usually people with them are very secretive and are very good at hiding it and saying 'no, I don't have an eating disorder, I have anxiety or I have depression', but it comes back down to what they're eating and a lot of people can steer away from that.

"I was lucky enough that my parents stuck by me the whole time and my mum knew that something was wrong."

She says it took a year and a half before she admitted she had an eating disorder.

"In the hospital I didn't admit it ... 'nothing's wrong with me mum, I just want to be healthy'.

"They just stuck with me, fought with me, but still were finding it very challenging, they didn't know what was happening, they were just as scared as me.

"They were watching me pretty much die in front of them."

She says recovery is possible, however.

"It's a long journey, it's not an easy answer. I struggled with trying to recover and then not trying and then falling back in but the biggest thing for me by the end was being like 'you know what, give yourself time and just go full on.

"You just need to take that leap of faith and try and recover - and once you've recovered if you don't like it then you can fall back to it but trust me, it is better.

"You just have to believe that it is going to be okay and surround yourself with people that will help you."

She says she thinks people being honest with her and treating her like a person helped her through it.

"I didn't like when people said 'oh just eat it', I was like 'you don't understand, I can't just eat it' … but when my friend said to me 'Claudia, it's a marshmallow, what is one marshmallow going to do to you', it was straight-up but at least it was like bringing me back to reality.

"You're so caught up in this feeling or this anorexic talk in your head that you can't remember what is real anymore."

She says she was lucky with her parents and in getting a wonderful therapist, but it's hard to get help for eating disorders.

"There's hardly any help out there ... a lot of people out there are still struggling, and they don't have people around them. They're alone in this, they've just got the public health system and we don't know how to treat this."

Miryam agrees that support is hard to find.

"I have talked to many people who once they got to the point where they needed help, they themselves were saying 'I need help', they'd be put on an eight-month wait list."

Beyond improving the availability of support services, it's hard to see what can be done or how to approach education about eating disorders.

Miryam says there's evidence that confronting or warning people who may be suffering with an eating disorder can actually make things worse.

"That at certain points of someone's journey with an eating disorder that it can actually be more harmful than helpful.

"That was a hope of the documentary that it could talk about it in a way that doesn't give any tips or tricks or ideas or numbers … but I think it's a really difficult line: educating on healthy eating and looking after your body without it going too far."

She says she hopes the documentary will allow people to seek help.

"There are [phone] numbers, and also EDANZ which is a really amazing charity that's out there to support families and parents.

But she knows sometimes it's hard to ask for help from someone you don't know.

"Ask for help. One person that you trust - could be your aunty, your friend, your school teacher, somebody you can trust who you feel like you could speak to.

Claudia says she has a GP who was good to her but the health system is not the best first port of call.

"They are not specialised in eating disorders, and they don't know how to pick it either.

"We just want to bring awareness and hopefully for the message to come across - we need help, New Zealanders need help, but it is possible to get better and there are people here for you."

The documentary, Disorder, is one of six produced as part of the Outlook for Someday series, funded partly through New Zealand on Air.