American Idol finalist Katharine McPhee, 22, recently went public with her struggle with bulimia. According to People magazine, Ms. McPhee has a history of bingeing, self-induced starvation and vomiting, as well as excessive exercise, beginning at age 17. After auditioning for Idol, she sought treatment at the Los Angeles Eating Disorder Center of California and now discusses her disorder in the past tense.
I’m so happy that Ms. McPhee has recovered from her illness and, even more so, that she’s willing to share with the public the depths of her disease. I do, however, have one small bone to pick.
Since her appearance on the show, Ms. McPhee has lost 30 pounds due to some variation of an “intuitive eating” approach, as reported by People. Interestingly, these types of approaches are the exact ones I espouse—eating what you want, when you want, and not depriving yourself. (See, it does lead to weight loss!)
But, it summarizes perfectly the dilemma I have regarding the work that I do. I realize that what people most want to hear (and what sells best) is how to lose weight. Even if I think the approach is healthier than a diet or, certainly, a disordered-eating ritual, the goal is still to help you shrink your size.
But, is this it?
Is this the ultimate goal, or should there be a larger and more psychologically adaptive one (the therapist in me is shrieking, “Yes, yes!”) that allows you to accept yourself for who you are, no matter what your size or what the scale reads?
There’s a part of me that wishes Ms. McPhee could have exited treatment and retained the 30 pounds. Wouldn’t that have represented a larger challenge, to give up her bingeing and purging as coping resources and become comfortable with who she was? Instead, the message seems to be that if you treat your bulimia, you can lose weight (which may happen), not that if you treat your eating disorder, you’ll improve your physical and psychological health and be a better person because of it. Ms. McPhee is a role model for girls and women around this country and, likely, beyond. Recovering from an illness and promoting self-acceptance at any weight would make her the greatest idol, yet.