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How the Latest ‘This Is Us’ Shows the Importance of Eating Disorder Awareness

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Editor's Note

Editor’s note: This article contains spoilers for season 5, episode 3 of “This Is Us.”

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

This Is Us,” the critically acclaimed NBC television show, is tackling a new issue in their fifth season: eating disorders during pregnancy.

The show first introduced the character Madison in season one as part of a weight support group, and since then she has had varying amounts of screen time until this season. Even though it has rarely been brought up, I’ve never forgotten that Madison has an eating disorder. From the very first scene in last week’s episode (5×03, “Changes”), I was on high alert. Her waking up early to put on makeup: a sign of poor body image. She cooks pancakes that are low-cal and gluten-free: food rules and restriction, or a potential trigger. Her response to Kevin’s diet plans: a trigger response. Her discomfort with weight gain and her growing pregnancy bump: body checking. To me, it seemed so obvious. Madison is struggling with her eating disorder. I grew frustrated with Kevin the longer the episode went on: how doesn’t he see this? Why isn’t he helping her? What is he missing?

And then today, a day after watching it, I started to understand it. To me, my eating disorder has been such a big part of my life that it is simply unfathomable to me that other people could be so oblivious to it. For so many other people, though, eating disorders are nothing more than a three-paragraph blurb they read in their science textbook once. They don’t know the signs and symptoms. They aren’t watching with such a close eye. They don’t know what these things can mean, how they start, how they grow. And without us telling them about our experiences and how they can help, most people simply won’t know until it’s too late. I took great pains to make sure my eating disorder stayed invisible so I could keep it, and it isn’t fair to fault people who don’t know better. I spent the episode criticizing Kevin for being so blind when in reality, that’s a common response for the vast majority of people who lack eating disorder awareness.

Later in the episode, Madison explained to Kevin what she was going through. She gave examples of things that are difficult for her and opened up about her past experiences, and for the most part, Kevin seemed to take it well. It will be interesting to see how the show carries this forward — how much they dive into it, and what kind of supportive roles the other characters take on. In the meantime, I’m grateful for this episode because it highlights the challenges of having an invisible mental illness and reminded me that I have a role to play in sharing my story to raise awareness.

Image via YouTube

Originally published: November 17, 2020
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