THE CROWN: Bulimia and The Princess of Wales
Netflix are about to broadcast their latest edition of The Crown showing Diana in the throes of bulimia nervosa. We are led to believe that her unkind and thoughtless treatment at the hands of the Prince of Wales was responsible for her decline into poor mental health and a ravaging eating disorder that dogged her life for years.
We are told, but will never know if this is true, that she first purged before her wedding, in the context of knowing that her future husband was close to another woman, Camilla Parker Bowles.
We will believe that dealing with a huge amount of stress was responsible for her poor mental health and eating issues. This stress included her loveless marriage, her unkind and dismissive husband, and the pressures of the expectations heaped upon her shoulders as a future queen.
If Diana had been put in this position in 2020, there is no doubt that she would have had access before even becoming engaged, to much better guidance and support than was available to her then.
I, like many viewers have struggled not to feel a great deal of pity for the situation in which this young woman found herself, together with anger about the unkindness of the family in which she had been thrust. But, I also find it hard to blame the Royal Family or any of its members for her eating disorder. With courage or confidence, she could have expressed her outrage differently, but then she simply didn’t know how.
We know that bulimia nervosa is not “caused” by anything. It has its roots in the personality of the sufferer and any adverse events they may have suffered in childhood that have weakened their self- esteem and stopped them from being able to express their wants and needs. One example of such a trauma was her mother; abandoning her at a very young age, leading her to believe perhaps that she was not important enough to the most important person in her world.
We know that people with bulimia tend to be sensitive, perfectionist, they tend to over-think and they lack a great deal of self-confidence. Diana will have brought all of these traits into her relationship with the Prince of Wales. A person carrying that deadly disposition to developing a mental health problem will not be able to cope when the going gets rough.
Diana has flagged up her eating disorder as a “cry for help” and perhaps she is convinced that it was, or maybe this was offered as an explanation by her various therapists. I prefer to think of bulimia nervosa as the preferred way of coping with emotions that are overwhelming when someone lacks the language of emotions or the permission to express what they feel. It is no surprise, therefore, that bulimia lost its hold – and, she was able to tolerate being a healthy body weight, when she discovered her confidence and found a more authentic purpose for her life.
What triggered her act of purging in the first place will never be known. It pre-dated her marriage and from that moment the eating disorder was ready to blow up and engulf her. I would imagine that blaming the cruelty and the thoughtlessness of other people did not lead to change even if she was only able to thrive outside of that toxic and loveless environment. What helped her to recover was rediscovering her voice and gaining permission to deserve to eat. Anyone with bulimia nervosa will need specialist help to recover, by targeted focus on self and building something much bigger than the relationship with food.