"Wasting Away": a Channel 4 documentary

"Wasting Away": A Channel 4 Documentary

Mark and Maddy Austin. Photograph: David Hogan/Channel 4

To those who have watched, heard about, or who are discussing the Channel 4 Documentary “Wasting Away”, broadcast Thursday August 24, 10pm in the UK …

… a blog post from F.E.A.S.T.'s Chair

I watched the powerfully affecting documentary aired on Channel 4 last week, although I didn’t really want to; not because I don’t care about the story of Mark and his daughter Maddy and the effects of her illness on all of their family, and not because I don’t care about the others who were featured, many of whom have been failed or are failing within the scope of UK healthcare, but because I do care, very much.  And because I knew that I would be affected, my family having once been affected by an eating disorder too, and because of what I have seen of how eating disorders have affected many families over my many years of volunteering for F.E.A.S.T.

Anyway, I watched, and as expected it made me both cry a little and shout a bit at the telly - the latter mostly about what was not said, or not made clear (and - obviously - when Jeremy Hunt failed to say things beyond the meaningless as a Secretary of State for healthcare who appears to be neither well informed nor to really care) - and it left me wondering what the take-homes are, or will be - the where next, the what now, and what might this documentary help achieve?

Mark and Maddy and all the other families and individuals featured were eloquent and courageous as they shared their painful, personal, experience.  Beat had uncovered and revealed some hard facts in terms of the holes in the buckets of funding, and some bleak stats that all can agree are just not good enough.  But in a 45 minute documentary there is not time to fully inform what is known about the illnesses, how to understand the modus operandi behind the biology and the psychology involved, and how does anyone find a diagnosis or treatment supported by a fully integrated treatment team (including family, friends, responsible individuals, institutions, healthcare providers, …).

It may be useful to pause at this stage and just state some facts that may be relevant:
  • eating disorders are diagnosable, treatable illnesses and full recovery is possible from them  
  • underpinning ALL successful treatment, from any of the many diagnosable illnesses known as eating disorders, is nutritional rehabilitation and normalisation  - all the other many and varied adjuncts to treatment will support that one holiest of grails 
  • nobody chooses to inflict an eating disorder on themselves - eating disorders happen and set up a momentum all of their own 
  • when they start, how they start, what were the complex mix of events that caused the very first stumble toward a precipitous drop down the rabbit hole and the topsy turvy world of an eating disorder may not be something that any individual can ever unpick 
  • there is no real sliding scale of urgency for treatment to be put in place for anyone with an eating disorder - all those with an eating disorder are in urgent need of assistance, and may also be in imminent peril for their life at any given stage of the illness - damage that is being done is not necessarily visible to the naked eye or measurable using simple equations
Some of this was not clear enough for my liking by the end of the programme, and what I believe any family with a diagnosis, or the prospect of a diagnosis, needs straightaway is good information in order to help them create a useful plan of action.  To help inform and create that, I would urge all affected families to visit the F.E.A.S.T. website and "Around the Dinner Table" forums where there are both in abundance.  Learn what you need to know, understand the questions that you will need answered, find out what you can do to be a useful part of the team able to offer your own support.  

Most systems in the world are currently lacking something that we could hope for; if we learn what it is that we need, what we want, how to ask for it and how to help facilitate it, we might put ourselves on a path to something that will enable good care to be provided more universally.  The danger we face in allowing the sometimes unrelated individual parts of what is not working right now to dominate the conversation is that they may also distract us from what the awareness raising of documentaries like this one are trying to achieve - a consistency of care that is informed, accessible and fit for purpose for anyone who needs it, whatever the specifics of their diagnosis, age, stage of illness, and geographic location.  

Erica (Husain), F.E.A.S.T. chair


  1. I agree with your comments completely, in Ireland for example there is a significant lack of awareness, expertise and understanding in the diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders. The consistency of care I believe starts with the GP while he or she or not experts they should have as part of their training a basic understanding of eating disorders which would enable them to spot the danger signs as they are generally the first medical person parents will bring their son or daughter to see.

    A fully integrated multidisciplinary health care service staffed by people who are aware and well informed about the devastating effects of eating disorders is vitally important for successful outcomes for ED sufferers. Hopefully Channel 4 and other TV outlets will start to take a more in depth look at the effects that a disjointed service is having on the provision of treatment and care for ED sufferers and perhaps government ministers may be prompted into providing political support and funding for the people they represent.


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