Starvation diets

9th December 1994 at 00:00
Reva Klein reports on a video with a vital message for potential anorexics and others with eating disorders Dr Dee Dawson, medical director of the Rhodes Farm Clinic, gives a talk on nutrition to a teenage girl. Throughout, she refers to a table groaning with a healthy child's idea of heaven: chocolates, biscuits, cakes, cream, crisps, gorgeously glossy fruit. Except the girl she is talking to is not healthy and her idea of heaven no longer exists. Her skeletal body and mind are trapped in the hell of anorexia and for her, food is a terrible obsession, something to be feared, distrusted, despised.

Dying to Eat is a video produced by Malavan Media for the Rhodes Farm Clinic in north London that, while unassuming and homely, packs a whopping great punch. It is addressed at young people who, like the skeletal girl, have the potential to turn the powerlessness they feel in their lives into an iron grip of control when it comes to what they put in their mouths. One schoolchild in 100 suffers from anorexia, three-quarters of whom are girls.

Dee Dawson, who has been running the Rhodes Farm Clinic for young people with eating disorders from her home in Mill Hill, north London, shoots straight from the hip about what this disease means. Interspersed with interviews of girls (and one boy) who have gone through or are currently in the throes of eating disorders, she offers straightforward, easy-to-absorb information about anorexia, about nutrition, the physical and psychological effects of starving oneself and about what young people can do to help themselves or others who display symptoms of anorexia and bulimia.

Some of these offerings appear pretty home-spun, like going over the well-trodden landscape of what you need to be healthy. But the sub-text is clever and effective. Dr Dawson time and again dispels myths about beliefs that are as powerful today as religion has been in the past. Her look at "fattening" foods is particularly surprising. Spritzing out what appears to be a gallon of whipped cream from an aerosol container, she disproves the "naughty but nice" slogan, pointing out that all that curly white stuff amounts to a scant 50 calories. Not even remotely naughty, although her view of niceness doesn't, in this and some other instances, stretch beyond calorific value to look at true nutritional value.

The great strength of this video is the chords it will strike with many viewers, young and not so young. Many of us are prone to the kind of behaviour that can lead to eating disorders.

While the tone may not be the most sophisticated, it is the clarity of the message that is important. And that is that eating disorders destroy lives, lose you friends, make you withdrawn, weak, obsessed and boring. And those things count, whoever you are and whatever your age.

Dying to Eat, 30-minute video, Pounds 50 from Rhodes Farm Clinic, The Ridgeway, Mill Hill, London NW7 1RH.

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