(in a world of whales, we might have something to learn from hardcore calorie restricters)
(please read the article before commenting)
Anorexia nervosa has been a favored movie-of-the-week topic for decades. What’s more photogenic than stick-thin teenage girls pouting their way into early graves? Their anguish on the path to recovery is the stuff of which award-winning documentaries are made, be they crafted with Barbie dolls (who said plastic isn’t fantastic?) or real humans. These films highlight the egregious mistakes that have been enshrined in the pantheon of eating disorder treatment and shine a light on the regrettable hysteria surrounding the disease.
In one documentary about preteen anorexics, a woman who runs an eating disorder clinic explains that while her clinic only keeps girls for three months, full recovery from the disease takes anywhere from one to three years and requires constant supervision by a team of doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and nutritionists. This is wrong on so many levels and is an affront to these girls’ autonomy. The only way they will recover from their problems is to move on - find something productive and positive to do with their lives, rather than focus on their eating disorders for the next three years. Centering their lives on their disease strains family relationships - often forcing already-overprotective parents into an even more intrusive role in their daughter’s life and generating resentment from siblings who feel neglected as a result of all the attention paid to the anorexic - and minimizes other, healthier aspects of their lives.
Eating disorder “therapy” at these clinics generally consists of force-feeding and unproductive group therapy sessions- unproductive because anorexics are by nature not social creatures and the last thing they want to do is air their problems before the judging eyes of their peers. Throwing a bunch of anorexics into a group-living situation is guaranteed to create a competitive atmosphere, so the girls who genuinely want to get better will be discouraged from doing so when they see others attempt to beat the system by cheating at weigh-ins or meal times. Obviously if a person is experiencing acute health problems and their weight is dangerously low, hospitalization is the only route, but once they have regained their health they should return home immediately and get back on track with their lives rather than dwell on their eating disorder.
The stated goal of these clinics is to take thin girls and produce heavier girls. “Curing” them comes later - years later, according to the aforementioned clinic owner. Girls are rewarded for cleaning their plates, plates stacked with 2500+ calories of food - 500 more than a normal person eats in a day - and punished if they fail to stuff themselves to the bursting point on muffins, burgers and fries. Rather than fixing the anorexic’s unhealthy relationship with food, this regime pushes it to the opposite extreme - one girl in the documentary is terrified that if she does not finish the massive dessert she is served during a restaurant visit with her family she will not be allowed to go home from the clinic on time. “Eating oneself out of the clinic” - obeying food rules in the hope of being discharged early while failing to address the underlying psychological causes of one’s eating disorder - is frowned upon, yet meaningful therapeutic intervention is utterly absent from the clinical setting. No attention is paid to the permanent damage the girls are doing to their metabolisms by vacillating between feast and famine.
Some clinics don’t stop at overfeeding in their goal to fatten up their patients. Boston Children’s Hospital notoriously used antipsychotic drugs like Zyprexa and Risperdal known for their potential to induce weight gain as off-label treatment for anorexics who they believed weren’t gaining weight fast enough on the meal plan. Never mind that Eli Lilly, Zyprexa’s manufacturer, was the subject of a class-action lawsuit by patients who developed type-2 diabetes after taking the drug, in addition to other metabolic side effects. Get some weight on those girls fast.
This cavalier disregard for patients’ welfare at the expense of their weight cuts to the core of what is wrong with eating disorder treatment in this country. The hysteria surrounding anorexia, which affects approximately 1-4% of young females, is utterly disproportionate to the harm it causes. Complications from anorexia are responsible for death in .5% of patients - too many, to be sure, but nothing compared to the damage caused by obesity. In the US, 36% of women AND men are considered obese. Complications from obesity, such as heart disease and stroke, are among the top killers in the world. Yet with more than two-thirds of American adults classified as overweight, the obese blend in more easily and are even considered normal.
It’s somehow OK to shout “eat a sandwich!” at a skinny girl walking down the street, but yelling “go on a diet, fatty!” is tantamount to holocaust denial. When did this become the status quo? Were all the sane social critics eaten by this encroaching onslaught of fatties? They have infiltrated American cultural institutions, taking up positions as cultural editor of Salon and GQ, pushing their pro-fat agenda at the expense of health and common sense. Thin girls are banned from the runways of Paris, despite the obvious benefits to designers of using less fabric and not having to work around the unpredictable curves of fuller-figured women. The “Health At Every Size” movement is clearly a joke, as they are the ones most vociferously calling for the crucifixion of the petite. Merely existing as a thin person in meatspace is considered to be oppressing the large.
After all that, is it really a surprise that the rate of eating disorders is on the rise along with the rate of obesity? Any reasonable girl growing up in a society where overweight is the norm is going to be repulsed by the swamp of gluttony in which she resides and will want to rise above it. Whether she does it in a healthy manner - by eating well and exercising - or whether she starves herself is immaterial. Eating disorders are a reaction to the rising tide of fat engulfing the western world. Sure, every anorexic has her own reasons for her behavior, but skinny fashion models have nothing to do with the matter. No one ever starved herself because she saw too many pictures of Kate Moss in the 90s, despite the misguided cries of “fat-positive” “feminists.” Obesity is a society-wide problem; anorexia is a reaction. Both are dysfunctional coping mechanisms. We are a society of over-consumers taught to find satisfaction outside ourselves instead of cultivating our intellects and imaginations. Body fascism is not the answer.