Listening to lived experience: Laura's Open Letter

As the Fast Track Trial continues to receive pushback, and whilst practioners/clinicians are leading the campaign to stop this trial, it's imperative we hear from those who have lived experience. We need to hear from those who know what it was like to be on diets in larger bodies as teenagers - the actual reality. While academics and researchers sit up in their fortresses of knowledge and expertise and debate issues as we silently await the outcome, we need to remember that these debates are about young humans. Thank you to Laura for giving me permission to share her open letter here. Her instagram is @lauralovingherself.

Content warning: self harm and eating disorder behaviours.


I am writing to express my concern and utter outrage regarding The Butterfly Foundations involvement in the "Fast Track" trial. Specifically the involvement of Professor Susan Paxton, who is a researcher on the trial and a board member of The Butterfly Foundation. If you support her involvement in both the trial and The Butterfly Foundation, it means your company is involved in and supports the trial too.

I am not a clinical physiologist, or a dietitian, or a nutritionist. I don't have a university degree to draw upon. But what I do have is almost two decades of experience living with an eating disorder in one form or another.

When I was a teenager I lived in Western Sydney, the very same area the Fast Track Trial is targeting. When I was 12, the age the youngest participants in this trial are going to be, I already believed that my body was not good enough and I had already started dieting. My mother was doing weight watchers, so I tried to diet too.

I would restrict my food all day, then by mid afternoon I would so hungry that I'd eat anything I could. Some days I'd steal money from my mothers purse so that on the way home from school I could stop at a take away and buy myself hot chips to binge on. I'd steal food from the local shops, my friends houses and the kitchen cupboards in order to eat in secret. I'd hide the wrappers behind my wardrobe. My wardrobe had a big mirror on the front of it and every time I hid those wrappers I'd see myself in the mirror and I'd cry at the sight of my own body and the guilt I felt for eating. Your Fast Track participants are going to do the same. They'll steal food. Hide food. Cry at the sight of themselves and the guilt of ruining what should be there chance to lose weight. To gain acceptance and approval.

Maybe instead of losing weight, they'll gain it, like I did. Maybe their attempts at weight loss will get more desperate, like I did. Maybe they'll turn to laxatives and vomiting, to purge themselves of food they shouldn't have eaten, like I did. Maybe they'll start to self harm, cutting the fat on their thighs and the rolls on their stomachs to distract them from the way they feel inside, like I did. Maybe they'll hate themselves so much, they'll make plans to kill themselves, like I did. Maybe, they'll wake up the next morning, unsuccessful in their attempt, like I did. Maybe they will live with an eating disorder and almost two decades of hating themselves until they realise that life, and health, is about more than just weight loss.

Or maybe, they won't wake up the next morning.

The Butterfly Foundation claims that it's vision is "to live in a world that celebrates health, well-being and diversity."

How does your involvement in the Fast Track trial align with your vision? How is starving children in alignment with celebrating their health and well-being? We know that 500-600 calories a day is not enough calories to support the needs of a toddler, let alone an adolescent going through puberty and the physical and mental growth that comes with it. Please explain to me how The Butterfly Foundations involvement with the Fast Track trial will not result in long term physical and physiological harm to these children?

According to your website, "Butterfly's mission is dedicated to bringing about change to the culture, policy and practice in the prevention, treatment and support of those affected by eating disorders and negative body image."

How does your involvement in the Fast Track trial align with your mission statement? Your involvement in the trial is supporting the very same culture and practices that are going to cause serious, long term damage to children. This long term damage is going to cause eating disorders and negative body image in the children you are sacrificing in the name of research.

We know that teenagers who diet are likely to weigh more by the time they are adults. We know that teenagers who diet have lower self esteem, less feelings of connection to their peer and families and poorer body image. We know that teenagers who diet are more likely to engage in harmful weight loss behaviours such as abusing laxatives and forcing themselves to vomit after meals. We know that teenagers who diet are more likely to develop eating disorders in the long term and we know that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric diagnosis.

THIS is what you are supporting when you support the fast track trial.

I am asking - No, I am begging, on behalf of the child I was once was and all the children who will be harmed by the Fast Track trial. I am begging you to speak out against this experiment. Be the voice against harm that you claim to be and speak out against Fast Track.

© 2018 Ashlee Bennett | The Body Image Therapist

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