"Filmmaker captures slow suicide of anorexia," Michele Gershberg
- November 15, 2006
NEW YORK, Nov 14 (Reuters Life!) - At the heart of anorexia lies a human pain that cannot be explained simply as vanity, according to the director of a new film chronicling the potentially deadly psychiatric disorder.
Lauren Greenfield's documentary "Thin" debuts on Tuesday on Time Warner Inc.'s cable television network HBO, following four women who entered Florida's Renfrew Center to treat their eating disorders.
It tracks the treatment of Shelly, 25, who lived for five years with a feeding tube surgically planted in her stomach to ensure she received nutrients.
Alisa, 30, whittled her diet down to 170 calories a day during over 15 years battling with the illness while at other times, she could breakfast on a dozen doughnuts, several orders of hash browns and two half-gallons of ice cream in a single binge, vomit the entire meal and start again for lunch.
"I'm addicted to the process," Alisa admits in the film. "I just want to be thin. If it takes dying the get there, so be it. At least I'll get there."
For while many may view anorexia as an extreme fear of growing fat influenced by a culture obsessed with diets and wisp-figured celebrities, Greenfield found a far stronger urge to seek relief even at the brink of death.
One in seven U.S. women suffer from an eating disorder, while as many as 14 percent of people with anorexia will die from the illness, according to data from the researchers.
They also cite statistics showing nearly 25 percent of college-aged women purge food to help keep down their weight.
"I really did not understand what eating disorders were all about," Greenfield said in an interview. "I came to it being interested in from the body image side, as the extreme side of ... this body project we are all engaged in to some degree."
"What I found is it was really a coping mechanism that girls use, like drugs or alcohol, to numb intolerable pain."
The resulting film is an intimate portrait of the realities surrounding anorexia and its treatment, from pre-dawn weight checks to counseling sessions involving parents and siblings.
"It's not even something that they necessarily think is going to make them look better," said Greenfield. "They know they are engaging in a kind of slow suicide."
But while medical studies show many factors come to play in anorexia, from cultural pressure to family dynamics and genetics, Greenfield warns against trying to find an easy place to lay blame for the disease.
"It's a really, really tenacious illness and it's hard to get better even if you want to," she said. "It doesn't matter if you are famous or not, rich or poor. You're really trapped in the same prison of this illness."
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