Movies for eating disorder recovery

If you are in eating disorder recovery (or have a family member in recovery) and are looking for movies to watch, here are a few that I recommend. You’ll notice that I haven’t listed any movies that are actually about an eating disorder.

This is because I have yet to find a movie that covers the topic of eating disorders well or appropriately. In fact, the movies about eating disorders that I have seen are problematic. First, they often fall prey to stereotypes about eating disorders. Next, they can be triggering for someone who is actively in an eating disorder.

So I came up with my own criteria for movies that are appropriate for eating disorder recovery.

My criteria

Before we dive in, I’d like to let you know that I have pretty high standards for this list. Here are the minimum requirements that all of these movies meet:

  • No direct fat-shaming
  • No direct food-shaming
  • No dieting/eating disorder behaviors shown in the movie
  • Meets minimum criteria for female representation in film (Bechdel)

You might not think this is a lot to ask for, but it is! I had to discard hundreds of films to meet these minimum criteria.

Themes

In addition, I’m looking for movies that have themes of overcoming oppression and domination. This is because eating disorders are often based partly on oppression and domination. People who have eating disorders tend to oppress and dominate their body’s natural weight and eating instincts. This is a natural response to our society’s acceptance and perpetuation of body hate and discrimination.

So movie themes in which the characters overcome oppression and domination are helpful.

Also, because eating disorders are social justice issues, I’m most interested in movies that feature diversity of size, gender, race, abilities, and LGBTQ+ representation.

This project is a labor of love. It’s not easy to find movies that fit my criteria. I built this list because when I was in early recovery from my eating disorder I ran into a lot of movies that perpetuated the harmful ED voice in my head.

This is imperfect

It’s incredibly hard to find movies that meet my goals of intersectional feminism, social justice, and more. I’m still searching for a movie that is “perfect,” but I do believe that these movies are at least not too problematic. I hope you agree that these movies are at least “eating disorder safe.”

I have personally watched each of the movies on this list. I’ve discarded lots, and I still have lots more to evaluate. I’ll keep adding movies when I can!

If you have any suggestions, please add a comment below! Also, if you disagree with my assessment of a movie as safe, please let me know.

Spoiler Alert! The three movies at the top of this post include spoilers. Don’t read them if you don’t want to know what happens!

Whale Rider

2002 / PG-13

In this movie, Maori chief Koro believes he must uphold a thousand-year-old tradition of training his firstborn son to be chief.

But his firstborn son is not interested, and his firstborn grandchild is a girl named Pai. She feels called to take the role, but Koro can’t see her as anything other than a girl.

He tries to find “the one” among other first-born sons in the community, but they let him down and he enters a deep depression.

Then one night whales get beached on the shore. The community tries to get them back into the water with strength and force, but they fail. Pai tries to help, but Koro yells at her to go away.

She persists, and under her compassionate guidance, the largest whale turns around and returns to the water with Pai on its back.

Koro realizes he was wrong to dismiss Pai because of her gender. In the final scene, the community works together to launch a traditional seafaring canoe, with Pai chanting to keep time and Koro sitting next to her proudly.

How is this an eating disorder movie?

In this movie we see a patriarchal, rigid figure resisting a new way of seeing the world. Eating disorders are often in part a response to the patriarchal view that bodies are to be dominated and controlled. The assumption is that we must follow society’s rules and dominate our bodies in order to be successful.

But as long as we try to dominate and control our bodies, we put them in mortal danger. When the patriarch in the movie clings to his worldview, his community is fragmented and dying. But when he opens his eyes to the potential of a different way, the community heals and comes together. In fact, their traditions are revitalized and enhanced.

Similarly, while eating disorders hang on tenaciously, imposing their limited worldview, recovery offers a new way of being. This new way can feel impossible and strange, but ultimately leads us to a deeper connection with ourselves and our communities.

Notes:

  • Racial diversity
  • Size diversity
  • There are a few situations in which the Uncle’s weight gain is mentioned. And the Grandmother mentions the Father should eat more to gain weight.

Hidden Figures

2016 / PG
hidden figures movie

This is the true story of three African American women who were essential to launching John Glenn into NASA’s first human orbit around the earth. It is a powerful and emotional view into racism and sexism.

Katherine Gobel is a mathematical genius. She is assigned as a human computer to the Space Task Group. There is no bathroom for her in the building in which she works, so she must travel 1/2 mile by foot several times per day to relieve herself. This leads to the bathrooms being de-segregated. Meanwhile, her supervisor underestimates her and refuses to treat her calculations with respect. She perseveres and ultimately comes up with the exact calculation to return Glenn to Earth safely.

Mary Jackson is a brilliant engineer held back by both gender and race. When she is encouraged to apply for an engineering position, she has to pursue qualifications that are unavailable for a Black woman. She goes to court and is able to get access to the education she needs to achieve her dreams.

Dorothy Vaughan has been an acting supervisor for the group of Black female “computers” who run mathematical computations. She asks repeatedly for the promotion and raise that is her due, but is denied. When NASA gets its first IBM mainframe computer, Dorothy independently teaches herself the coding language and becomes the only person at NASA who can operate the machine. The result is that she gets her promotion and moves her entire department, which was at risk of being laid off, up to work on the IBM.

How is this an eating disorder movie?

In this movie we see sexism and racism as both dominant and accepted in plain view. Eating disorders are linked to both white supremacy and sexism. When white supremacy and sexism rule, bodies that don’t fit the dominant power role are dominated and controlled.

This movie shows that not only are marginalized communities like Black women valuable, but they are also essential. When the dominant white males try to exclude them from their inner circle, they risk losing access to brilliant ideas and solutions.

In this movie, the dominant white characters are deeply uncomfortable when the women assert themselves. But they gradually change their worldview and acknowledge and empower the Black women to claim their brilliance.

Similarly, as long as we give our eating disorders supremacy over our thoughts and behaviors, we miss the opportunity to see our body’s true brilliance and power. Our bodies are wise and beautiful, but they are held back by our oppressive eating disorders. When we persevere and overcome the eating disorder’s inherent discrimination, we ultimately claim our true brilliance and potential in life.

Notes:

  • Zero food shaming
  • Size diversity – one of the main characters is in a larger body
  • Racial diversity
  • There is one mention of weight. When Katherine Gobel is about to get married for the second time, her friend says she looks the same, just a little fuller. This is said in a loving, non-shaming way.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

2002 / PG

In this movie, Toula Portokalos is a 30-year-old Greek woman who works in her family’s restaurant and lives with her parents. Her father Gus is deeply dedicated to the Greek culture and expects her to marry a Greek man.

Toula is a shell of herself, performing her role in the family with no joy or passion. In the movie she take steps to own her life. First she attends computer classes at college, then takes over her Aunt’s travel agency. Both of these acts required the women of the family to convince Gus (the patriarch) that it was his idea that Toula does these things.

Toula meets Ian Miller, a teacher who is not Greek. As they fall in love, she hides her relationship from her family, knowing that it will not be acceptable to her father.

Finally, Toula introduces Ian to her family, and her father has the expected patriarchal reaction. He brings in Greek men to meet Toula, attempting to convince her to marry within their culture.

But Toula follows her heart and marries Ian. While Gus struggles with this, he ultimately accepts that his daughter deserves to marry whom she loves. In the end it’s a happy ending.

How is this an eating disorder movie?

In this movie we see a patriarchal family system deal with cultural identity. The family revolves around an accepted and largely unexamined and oppressive way of doing things. In our society, bodies are expected to conform to the system of body oppression even when it’s clear that each body is unique and has a right to self-expression.

This movie shows that we can be a part of a community even if we don’t follow its rules. When the culture tries to prescribe outdated views on our bodies, we can boldly refuse and follow our own path. While our eating disorders will try to keep us in line with cultural systems, we can reject its directions.

As long as we give our eating disorders the power to tell us whom to love and how to live, we lose ourselves. We will be a shell of who we were meant to be. When we stand up to our eating disorders, we can overcome their toxic dominance and live our own lives.

Notes:

  • Size diversity – several characters in a larger body
  • There are some casual fat comments, like when mom says pantyhose make her look “fat.”
  • While the main character is not in a larger body, her body is larger than traditional female leads. But her weight is never a topic of discussion nor perceived as an issue.
  • Fat is used in the title, but the movie is not about fat at all. I’m not sure why the name has Fat in it, but it luckily wasn’t a feature of the movie itself. In fact larger bodies are well-represented without the focus ever being on their weight.

Other fun movies for eating disorder recovery

The three movies above have themes that I can tie back to eating disorder recovery. This makes them special to me, as I think movies can be a powerful way to consider how overcoming oppression impacts our ability to recover.

However, sometimes you just want a movie without the analysis! I get it! So here is my list (still growing) of fun movies that are “eating disorder safe.” No analysis or deep thoughts necessary!

Moxie: Powerful movie about self-expression and feminism

  • Zero body shaming
  • Racial diversity
  • Size diversity
  • Character in a wheelchair 
  • LGBTQ+ characters
  • The only problematic issue for eating disorders is there is a weird theme in which the teen daughter tells her mom that it’s not OK to drink cow’s milk anymore. There’s also teen drinking.

Booksmart: Fun movie about two high school seniors who break out of their shells the night before graduation

  • Zero body shaming or food shaming
  • Size diversity – main character is in a larger body
  • Racial diversity
  • LGBTQ+ characters 
  • The only possibly problematic issue for eating disorders is there is a weird animated moment in which they are Barbie doll shaped (they’re high at the time). There’s drug use and teen drinking. 

The Hundred Foot Journey: Lighthearted movie about an immigrant family that overcomes oppression

  • Zero body shaming or food shaming
  • Racial diversity
  • This is a movie about food, so if that’s triggering, please take note.

Isn’t It Romantic: Romantic comedy featuring a larger-bodied main character

  • Size diversity – main character is in a larger body
  • Racial diversity
  • LGBTQ+ characters
  • This movie is a satire of rom-coms, but it skips the opportunity to critique fatphobia.
  • The setup for the movie is the main character’s cynical mom who says people would “kill themselves” if they watched “people like us” (e.g. unattractive) on TV.
  • There is some gratuitous use of her body for laughs. For example, the owner of a runaway food cart asks her to stop the cart with her body then says she’s “built like a cement truck.”

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before: Coming of age movie about being honest about how you feel

  • Zero body shaming
  • Racial diversity
  • LGBTQ+ character
  • One reference to a “no-caffeine diet.” Not presented as a positive, but worth mentioning.

The Spy Next Door: fun family movie featuring Jackie Chan as a lovable spy

  • Zero body shaming or food shaming
  • This movie is pretty limited in terms of diversity.

I have yet to find a movie that is “perfect,” but I do believe that these movies are at least thoughtful and not too problematic. There are hundreds of movies that I’ve seen that are not on this list. But I’m also still actively building it, so if you have any suggestions, please add a comment below!


If you want to learn more about how you can help your child recover, please reach out for parent coaching. I’d be glad to help!


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the editor of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents handle their kids’ food and body issues.

Published by Ginny Jones

My mission is to help reduce body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders.

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