Dangerous Diet Pills and Common Myths about Eating Disorders

I don’t know if there’s anything more intimate than someone’s relationship to food. It’s a cultural sphere where there appears to be a lot of freedom: one has a reasonable amount of control over what goes into their body, which bears a lot of responsibility. A person’s food preferences, rituals and aversions directly affect how their body operates in the world.

So when someone suffers from an eating disorder, they cannot be entrusted with that responsibility. Whether it manifests itself in binge-eating, consuming banned weight loss supplements, or forcing oneself to throw up, eating disorders are dangerous and often misunderstood. In an effort to bring light and understanding to these mental illnesses, I’m going to dispel some common myths associated with eating disorders.

#1: You Can See When Someone Has An Eating Disorder

Not all those who suffer from eating disorders ‘look’ unhealthy, i.e. are extremely skinny. Eating disorders affect those across the BMI spectrum. People categorized as overweight can be diagnosed with atypical anorexia nervosa if there’s a drastic loss of weight. This myth is damaging for several reasons. It can glamorize eating disorders by associating its effects with fashion model weight, and it can prevent people with eating disorders from coming out and getting treatment.

A few months ago, Netflix released a movie called ‘To The Bone’, about a young woman suffering from an eating disorder. I remember my friend posting about it, critiquing how it chose to portray eating disorders. She said she was sick of these milk toast, feel good movies, especially with an extremely skinny protagonist. As someone with an eating disorder, she said she wished she was that skinny all the time, and wished for more varying representation in the media.

#2: Eating Disorders Are A Choice, Not An Illness

A lot of people mistakenly think that people with eating disorders are vain, or even worse, strong-willed: that if they put all that energy into throwing up or cutting down on food, they could put the same into gaining back weight. Even doctors can dismiss patients with eating disorders, requesting them to stop exhibiting symptoms. But that’s the thing about diseases: they’re involuntary. The interaction between a person’s biology and their environment caused them to contract an eating disorder. The eating disorder actually prevents them from being in control, not the other way around.

#3: Only Rich White Teenage Girls Can Have Eating Disorders

People from all walks of life can get eating disorders: men, POC, older people, etc. The myth that only white teenage girls can have eating disorders actually prevents a lot of people from getting treatment. Men feel embarrassed to admit they have these types of disorders because they’re associated with femininity. In black or latinx communities, mental illnesses are often stigmatized, so people suffer in silence.

#4: Families/Mothers Are To Blame

Another common misconception is that eating disorders simply come from a person’s familial environment. Placing the blame on families, and particularly mothers, has been a common theory applied to misunderstood disorders for the past century. This can be seen with Bruno Bettelheim and his theory about Refrigerator Mothers and autism, and with Frieda Fromm-Reichmann and her theory about schizophrenoegenic mothers. Families can more often than not be allies in a patient’s recovering.

#5: Society Is To Blame

This is linked to the idea that eating disorders are a choice. Although American culture does have some incredibly problematic body image standards, that’s not the sole cause of eating disorders. If that were the case, everyone would either be purging, starving themselves, or throwing back banned weight loss pills. Although there is some connection, and it is a good thing that there are treatments and diet pills that are FDA banned, it’s inaccurate to put all on the responsibility on society.

Final Thoughts

After learning more about eating disorders, I want to remind readers that help is out there. Our bodies and our food are worthy of respect and love, but it can be difficult to remember that sometimes. When it becomes impossible to remember that, help is required. With heightened awareness, we can be more diligent in looking out for ourselves and each other.

If you’re curious to learn more about diet pills banned by the FDA, you can find more information here.

A Light Through the Fog: Enabling and Dependency in Jen Silverman’s The Moors

For the past two months I had been a literary intern at Hyde Park Theatre in Austin, reading scripts and helping out with events. While I was there I had the pleasure of seeing their production of The Moors, a new play by Jen Silverman. I had heard of the play, and I know a couple of people who are salivating for the rights. In their weekly email blast, my eyes had skimmed over the phrases “illicit sex” “secret diaries” and “rock ballads”. I had high expectations for the play, but I when I sat in my reserved seat last weekend, I did my best to put them out of my mind and enjoy the show.

The show is as odd as it sounds: a darkly comic thriller set in the late 1800s in a Jane Austen England, but with American accents. It’s out of this world in an unexpected way. In a place where one could contract typhus today or get lost in the moors and die tomorrow, every character is fighting tooth and nail for dominance over their place in the household. The audience follows the new governess of the household as she navigates the ever-changing rules set by the madam of the house, her depressed, pathetic sister, and the many-named maid.

Although all of these actresses had stand out performances, the subplot intrigued me the most. The characters pictured above are the Moorhen and the Mastiff. The Mastiff roams the halls of the mansion, ignored and unloved by his owners, and while walking in the moors comes across a moorhen with a damaged wing. The Mastiff develops a deep infatuation with the Moorhen, and stays with her while she heals. The Moorhen chats with the Mastiff and agrees to his presence only if he keeps his distance (he could very easily eat her).

Silverman does a wonderful job of playing with the worldviews of these different animals: the fast paced, optimist moorhen with her head in the clouds and the droopy, landlocked mastiff steeped in existential dread. But watching their relationship in particular illuminated a part of my romantic mythology: the idea that we can fix other people, or that others can give our lives meaning. There are only three scenes with the Mastiff and the Moorhen, but they are teeming with millennial commentary. In the middle of the first scene, the Mastiff promises that he will never hurt the Moorhen. And if I have learned anything about dramatic storytelling, it’s that if a character promises that they would never do something, they better do it by the end of the play.

Much of my Disney romance mythology had been debunked (but don’t underestimate the power of a single narrative: I still struggle to scrub my brain clean of the idea that purpose isn’t merely to find a prince, get married and pump out babies). But mainstream media in general didn’t provide educate me about mental health, substance abuse and how these affect relationships. Through Disney princesses, romantic comedies, and manic pixie dream girls, female characters are often used as sounding boards for the male protagonists to learn to love themselves. These girls come through and fix everything, awakening these sad, lost boys. But there is a difference between support and enabling. Love is supporting and complimenting another person, NOT completing them.

Jen Silverman dissects loving vs. enabling in this subplot, and takes this common trope to its true fruition: disaster.

The Mastiff unhinges his existential dread upon the Moorhen, telling her about all of his woes. The Moorhen understands little of this because she can’t relate: she’ll even say she has a short attention span. And here’s the crux: their relationship is also contingent on her injury: when she’s close to healing, the Mastiff suggests that she simply continue to walk, or that he learn to fly. When she refuses, he says he can’t afford to live without her. The play inevitably ends with him entering, his mouth bloody with feathers.

What shook me so deeply about this play was the parallels to my idea of love and my friends’ idea of love. With many friends suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues, it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate support and enabling. This wonderful play was a powerful reminder.





Alcohol’s Negative Effect on the Heart

Plant in a jar filled with water and a fish.

But You Look So Healthy!:  Perceptions of Bodily and Planetary Health (And A Little Bit About Alcohol’s Negative Effect on the Heart)

I will admit it: there’s a part of me that misses high school health class. Even though our developing bodies were sweaty, pimply alien things, it was refreshing to admit we even HAVE bodies! So much of the time now, I exist behind a computer screen: it’s easy to forget we’re humans!

At PVPA, the performing arts charter school in Western Mass, I remember playing a game called fish bowl: we would write down questions we had for the opposite gender, and then those would be anonymously asked. It was squirmy and funny and gross, but there was something magical about it. In health class, our bodies were something to be explored—we had to stay aware and in communication with them, because lurking somewhere in the future was our PERIOD! Or an ERECTION! And you had to be ready.

Effects of alcohol - love me, fuck me.

Now at a ripe 21, I yearn to reconnect with my body. The pressures of post grad quickly approaching have often led me to abuse my body rather than nurture it. Abuse can come in many forms: lying around all day in front of a screen, not eating, binge-eating sugary sweets, and, if the day’s been dark enough, binge drinking.

Although it still boggles my mind that humanity has progressed so far that we pay institutions to encourage us to do physical labor, exercise and ‘healthy’ food have been commodified by the Gods of gentrification and the 1%. Not everyone has the money or time for gym memberships and local organic food (not that organic food is necessarily ‘healthy’). When true self-nurture seems out of grasp, short-term, hedonistic abuse is scarily convenient. But so often this abuse is cloaked in the myth of ‘treat yourself’ culture. With apocalyptic anxiety hiding in our sheets, instant gratification cannot come quickly enough. Feeling shitty? Eat a pint of ice cream. Mad at your friends? Stay inside and binge-watch Netflix. Work draining your soul? Get drunk. Get so fucking drunk.

But no one would look at me and call me unhealthy. My doctor doesn’t even shame me for my poor eating habits. And why is that? Because it doesn’t obviously show. I’m stick thin, so I don’t get shamed for how I treat my body. Although apparently, it’s perfectly acceptable to shame fat people for their ‘choices’ (don’t get me started about how nutrition’s been distorted and put profits above the health of humanity). In a similar way to how alcoholics are perceived, how well someone is able to HIDE their problem determines its severity. Not the actual state of the problem (there are strong parallels to climate change here as well, but once again, you don’t want to get me started on that either).

Toxic waste hurting our planet.

But our planet and our physical bodies can only take abuse for so long without repercussions. I was just reading the other day about how even moderate drinking can lead to and exacerbate pre-existing heart conditions. Just as I was reading about how in a century the tropical regions will be inhospitable to life. Certain corporations, neoliberals, and other apathetic entities have been contributing to our cultural blindness


Healthy food can be and is cheap (check out Leanne Browns’ cookbook Good and Cheap).

Alcohol treatment centers are all over the place, and can give you the tools to help yourself!

There are brilliant people all over the world devising plans for agriculture, transportation, and city planning to bring down the world’s carbon footprint to save millions of future lives.

Health, sobriety, and carbon-neutrality are attainable. We have the tools to help ourselves in these scary, scary times. Maybe we can use some of that health class spirit: some of that beginner’s magic may help us along.



Alcohol Addiction: Is Alcohol A Drug?

Samples of the drug, marijuana.

After election day this year, everyone I personally knew was extremely distraught. I knew people of color who didn’t feel safe leaving their homes on that day. I knew women who were catcalled even more. I knew people who were afraid of religious persecution being condoned by the President himself. But up in Massachusetts, there was a small group saying: “But hey, 420 though.”

Yes, marijuana had been legalized in California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts this past November. More than half of the country has legalized marijuana in some form. I am reminded of the midnight lectures, courtesy of my stoner friends, professing the plethora of benefits weed has to offer us. I voted in favor of legalization because of its medicinal benefits and, more importantly, I didn’t want to see any more people of color go to prison for weed possession. Even with the spread of legalization, I would like to see states go further and release people who committed nonviolent drug crimes.

But there are so many questions that marijuana legalization brings to the surface: Does the government have a right to determine what someone puts into their body? How do drugs and other crime intersect? Is enforcing expensive drug laws worth the cost? What constitutes a ‘drug’?

The questions we ask ourselves about the effects of marijuana and our culture’s relationship to it illuminate the nature of other drugs our culture takes for granted: alcohol.

Let’s be clear: alcohol is a drug. A drug is defined as a chemical substance that affects the processes of the mind or body. The idea of a ‘substance’ can become habituating or addictive is one associative definition. Alcohol is a depressant, which means that it slows vital functions. But even though it’s classified as a depressant, the effect is determined by how much is consumed. Most often it’s used as a stimulant, which can occur after just drinking a few beers.

As a youngin, I was far more frightened at the prospect of marijuana than of liquor. My mom drank like a fish and it was a part of my household. My parents would let me drink in high school, and were very lax about the whole thing. Drinking was almost like a right of passage: an inevitability.

But, because of its illegality, marijuana wasn’t a part of that at all. As early D.A.R.E. programs informed us, marijuana was the gateway drug to heroin, cocaine and all the other drugs plaguing our beloved child stars.

Even though alcoholism takes five more lives each year than every other drug combined. These deaths can be specifically associated with diseases associated with alcoholism, (including Fatty Liver Disease, Alcoholic Cirrhosis, and Alcohol Hepatitis), drunk driving or other accidents involving impaired motor control. I hate to be that guy, but I’ll say it: ‘nobody ever died from weed.’ Binge-drinking on the other hand, alcohol-poisoning, liver disease: basically, you can’t say the same for alcohol. Every day in America, another 27 people die as a result of drunk driving crashes.

Man drinking alcohol in a glass.

Alcohol is glamorized in our culture, consumed by every socially acclimated Tom, Dick and Harry, to the most divine celebrities of Hollywood, whereas weed and other harder drugs are reserved for people undeserving of our respect (hippies, drug addicts, etc). This can be dangerous because although some people can control their alcohol intake, some people cannot stop after one drink, and can have no way of knowing until it is too late. Think of your freshman year, and go back to your first party. Even if you have a safe and healthy relationship with alcohol, it can be difficult to resist the peer pressure to drink, especially when alcohol comes with a guarantee to relieve social inhibitions. Most Americans will try alcohol in their lifetimes and continue to drink. This probably isn’t surprising, but this sets it apart from all other drugs.

I want to end this with saying that although I don’t think it would be helpful for alcohol to criminalized, I want to encourage everyone to question the cultural ‘inevitability’ of alcohol. How can we become more mindful of how and why we regulate drugs to inform more educated drug regulation?






Ignoring Teen Mental Health

Statue of Plato representing mental health.

Mental Health: The Artistic and Moral Failure of 13 Reasons Why

Let’s begin with the power of stories. I’m gonna take us WAY back, and take a look at Plato’s Republic. In Republic, Plato paints a picture of an ideal society. In it, he attacks the concept ‘mimesis’. Mimesis roughly translates to imitation, meaning any kind of art when a writer or performer pretends to be someone else. This extends to fiction, poetry, theater, film, anything with characters and a narrative basically. According to Plato, you couldn’t have any of this in a perfect society, because to tell a good story, you have to include characters that do bad things or have unfavorable qualities. So in order to perform or write about characters like this, the artist has to explore or realize those unfavorable qualities within themselves.

Not only was he saying life imitates art, he was saying stories have the power to influence. Basically, Plato was saying art, particularly bad art, is dangerous.

13 Reasons Why is a perfect example of what Plato was talking about when he was shitting on mimesis.

The Sorrows of Young Werther book cover.

Ever heard of the Werther Effect? The Werther Effect occurs when there’s a spike in suicide rates that resemble or are inspired by suicides that are widely depicted in the film, fiction, or other media. A vulnerable person, without access to the proper resources, will be triggered by the narrative, and emulate that character’s suicide, creating what’s known as a ‘suicide contagion’. We’re already seeing this happen with suicide clusters in Colorado and California. So before you jump to defend the artists’ freedom to create whatever they want, consider the goals of their show, and remember that art is powerful.

Trigger Warning: I’m going into this assuming you’ve watched or read a synopsis of the show. Spoilers ahead, obviously.

Let’s talk about the transfer of mediums.

13 Reasons Why Book Cover

13 Reasons Why was originally a book written by Jay Asher. Producer Selena Gomez, playwright Brian Yorkey, and director Tom McCarthy picked up the novel to adapt into a television series.

The major differences:

In the novel, Clay listens to each tape in one night, and the rape and suicide sequences are far less graphic. For the purposes of the show (which Selena Gomez made very clear was to educate teens about suicide), Clay listened to the tapes over the course of a week or so, expanding the narrative to fit neatly into 13 episodes. Aesthetically pleasing, sure, but it does nothing for the show other than extending the torture.

It’s rising action includes gratuitous and exploitative rape scenes, which makes it nearly impossible for sexual assault victims to watch without being triggered. Its climax is Hannah’s suicide, and although in the book she swallows pills, the creative team of the show deemed it necessary for Hannah to slit her wrists. Reading about these sequences is different: you can put it down at any time, and you’re meant to pace yourself. But watching a series has a different set of rules. Sure, you can pause and take breaks, but let’s be honest, with Netflix in particular, shows are designed to be binged. Even with the trigger warnings in the beginning, if all of your friends are watching it, is a teenager really gonna heed the trigger warning?

The hit series about teen suicide has another gaping problem: it never mentions mental health or depression. This show, and its protagonist, puts all the responsibility on the environment: on the school itself. And I swear, if I hear ‘We all killed Hannah Baker’ one more fucking time, I’m going to eat a chinchilla. There are lots of reasons why people commit suicide, but it’s always a combination of the person’s mental state AND their environment. If we follow the logic that a toxic environment alone causes suicide, then everyone in the school would’ve killed themselves. This doesn’t happen. But because mental health isn’t addressed, the show perpetuates the idea that people commit suicide for attention.

I want to be perfectly clear: it’s understandable to blame yourself when a person takes their own life—chaos theory, the butterfly effect, all these theories make sense. But these theories don’t place blame on any single individual, and to do so is extremely dangerous. Even though all of the students could’ve, and should’ve, treated Hannah better, none of their singular efforts could’ve saved her.

Cray Jenson in the dark.

Which brings me to all of the bullshit that is Clay Jensen.

Watching the series through Clay’s eyes, on the one hand, is satisfying: it’s refreshing to see a young white man give a shit about girls who were assaulted, to have the shit kicked out of him to get a confession out of a rapist.

On the other hand, his character sports an imperialist, white savior complex, which is fully realized once we get to his tape. In the school that’s filled with backstabbers and secrets, Clay Jensen is pure; he merely wanted to love Hannah. In the aftermath of her death, he is her vengeful angel, punishing those who mistreated her. All of this mildly troubling rhetoric climaxes in the final episode in his conversation with Mr. Porter:

“I cost a girl her life because I was afraid to love her.”

I almost threw my computer across a room.


I don’t know how to put it any clearer than this. The whole premise of the show, that these people were the ‘reasons’ she killed herself, culminates in this problematic and harmful notion that suicide isn’t related to mental health.

Hannah’s classmates did some horrible things, but they would’ve been horrible if she didn’t kill herself. But within the context of this series, her death and the tapes were the only way to bring justice and truth to light. This is the way the show romanticizes suicide: when the protagonist achieves poetic justice by way of her suicide, it can inspire vulnerable teens to commit the same act.

The creative team of this show had good intentions: they wanted to create a dialogue. They wanted to shed light on teen suicide and give students and their parents the tools to talk about slut shaming, bullying, sexual assault, and substance abuse. But they ignored the advice of mental health professionals, they made it impossible for sexual assault victims or suicidal populations to view their show without being triggered: they realized Plato’s fear. I hope Netflix discontinues the series and takes the down the first season. I hope we all begin acknowledging the danger of bad art.