What “The Crown” Got Wrong About Princess Diana and Eating Disorders

Princess Diana and eating disorders

In a scene from season 4 of The Crown, a newly engaged 19-year-old Diana Spencer has just moved into Buckingham Palace. But her new life as a princess-to-be isn’t the fairy tale she dreamed it would be. Instead, she finds herself isolated and lonely as her fiancé Prince Charles spends time with another woman (his now-wife Camilla Parker Bowles). In the scene, Diana creeps into the kitchen at night, opens the refrigerator, and starts eating spoonfuls of delectable treats—one, then another, then another, then more. A few moments later, viewers see her hunched over a toilet bowl, making herself vomit. Throughout the season of the popular series on Netflix, this same scenario is replayed numerous times, a graphic portrayal of the eating disorder that plagued the “people’s princess” for years.

Princess Diana struggled with bulimia nervosa, a type of eating disorder involving binging and purging that affects millions. According to a 2007 study that involved 9,282 Americans in Biological Psychiatry, 1.5% of women and 0.5% of men experience bulimia during their lifetime. Eating disorders remain some of the most misunderstood mental health problems, and The Crown doesn’t get everything right in its portrayal.

Here’s what season 4 of The Crown gets wrong about Princess Diana and eating disorders (and one thing it gets right).

Here’s what season 4 of The Crown gets wrong about Princess Diana and eating disorders (and one thing it gets right). Click To Tweet

Right: Appearances can be deceiving.

To the adoring public, Princess Diana’s life looked perfect—she was beautiful, slender, dressed in the finest gowns, and lived in a castle. But people who look like they have everything going for them are not immune to eating disorders or other psychiatric issues. These problems can affect anyone, including those who appear to “have it all.” In The Crown, Lady Diana’s disordered eating remains her hidden secret, which is the case for many who suffer from bulimia. As opposed to people with other types of eating disorders—such as anorexia, which is associated with extreme weight loss—those with bulimia are often able to maintain a “normal” body weight despite their disordered eating.

Wrong: Trigger warnings are enough.

Although Netflix provides a warning before episodes that some depictions may be “troubling,” these warnings may not work as intended. The graphic scenes in the Crown can be viewed as a “how-to” in some cases, and they may be triggering for anyone who is suffering with or recovering from an eating disorder, such as bulimia, anorexia nervosa, or binge eating.

Wrong: The series omits a key trigger.

One thing the series leaves out in Diana’s struggles with an eating disorder is the fact that she claimed it started when her then-fiancé Prince Charles made a critical comment about her weight. In 1997, Diana told Newsweek, “[Charles] put his hand on my waistline and said, ‘Oh, a bit chubby here, aren’t we?’” Although experts agree that there usually isn’t one single cause of eating disorders, they do suggest that critical comments or teasing about a person’s weight can contribute to the condition.

Wrong: Recovery is easy.

By the end of season 4, The Crown depicts Lady Diana hunching over the toilet bowl but stopping herself from going through with the self-destructive ritual, a sign that she’s on the road to recovery. But the series doesn’t represent the challenges Diana would have surely gone through or the treatment she sought in real life to help her heal from the disorder. Recovery from eating disorders is possible, but it doesn’t happen quickly. And considering that it’s very common for sufferers to have co-occurring disorders—such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive compulsive disorder—it typically requires professional mental health treatment.

Wrong: Diana remains silent about her struggles.

The princess suffered for years in silence before bravely going public with her private struggles in a 1992 biography and a 1995 BBC interview. Her public acknowledgment encouraged countless others to seek help. As the number of reported cases of bulimia spiked, The National Eating Disorders Association dubbed it the “Diana Effect.” It’s possible that future seasons of The Crown may delve into Diana’s public discussions and her efforts to de-stigmatize mental health issues.

Wrong: Eating disorders are just a psychological problem.

The Crown deftly reveals how low self-esteem, feelings of isolation, social pressures, and relationship issues can contribute to eating disorders. What it leaves out is the role the brain plays in the condition. Based on the brain SPECT imaging work at Amen Clinics—160,000 brain scans from patients in 150 countries—people with eating disorders tend to have abnormal activity in certain areas of the brain. Typical SPECT findings in eating disorders include overactivity in the anterior cingulate gyrus (associated with getting stuck on thoughts and behaviors) and basal ganglia (the brain’s anxiety centers), and issues in the parietal lobe (involved in sensory processing and direction sense and often seen in people with body dysmorphic disorder). Healing the brain with a targeted treatment plan is an essential part of the recovery process.

Eating disorders can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we use brain SPECT imaging as part of a wrap-around evaluation and treatment plan for people struggling with eating disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions. We believe in using the least toxic, most effective therapies and strategies to optimize your brain function to help you regain control of your eating and learn to love your life again.

We are available for in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

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