Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that occurs when an individual is unrealistically concerned about being overweight or feels an overwhelming need to be so thin that in either case an individual eats so little that they become malnourished. While Bulimia is where an individual binges and purges. They may eat a lot of food at once and then try to get rid of the food by vomiting, using laxatives or sometimes over-exercising. Both of which are diseases linked to physical and psychological disorders.
The HBO documentary, “Thin,” takes place at a Renfrew Treatment Center and goes into the lives of four women with eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Through the challenges of weigh-ins, counseling sessions and balanced meals, the women display the severity of and recovery from this deadly disease. The treatment plans at Renfrew involved individual, group and family psychotherapy, medical care and monitoring, nutritional counseling and medications.
Treating anorexia nervosa at the Renfrew Center, involved restoring the person to a healthy weight, treating the psychological issues related to the eating disorder and eliminating behaviors or thoughts that lead to insufficient eating and preventing relapse. The facility also had weekly room searches, cafeteria food monitoring and had group sessions that involved an “integrity stick. All of which, were the most effective forms of treatment because it had weekly health checks, close observation, a strict sense of structure and open door policy which allowed the women to come out and be open with themselves, other patients and staff members to ensure progress. As the documentary unravels, it introduces more in depth of each of the women’s lives and their struggles with eating disorders. Out of the four women, Alisa Williams was the most moving to me throughout the documentary because of her hopeful, encouraging attitude and was very articulate.
Alisa was a 30 year old divorced mother of two and traces her eating issues back to an incident at the pediatrician when she was 7 years of age and was put on a diet. She describes massive binge and purge sessions in which resulted in hospitalizations due to dehydration, severe abuse of diuretics, laxatives and enemas. Apart from her binges, which she described as occurring “every few weeks or so, over and over again, for three or four days,” (Thin, 2006) and was restricting to under 200 calories a day prior to entering Renfrew.
She had been hospitalized five times in the three months leading to her admittance to the Florida Treatment Center. Having struggled with her eating disorder for 16 years, Alisa took disability leave from her job as a pharmaceutical rep in order to enter treatment. In the documentary, Alisa responded well to treatment and demonstrated acts of integrity, motivating and encouraging other women to stay strong as she can literally, “taste recovery” (Thin, 2008). But after being discharged from the Renfrew Center, the audience learns that Alisa goes on to lose twenty pounds and attempts suicide.
Again, she returns to the treatment center, which gives the audience the idea that Alisa will pull through and progress and maintain a healthy weight at the time of being treated, but then will possibly relapse when she gets the opportunity to go home. Moreover, based on Alisa’s 16 year fight with Bulimia, she is categorized with a chronic eating disorder that may require much more extensive treatment in the end. Another woman featured on the film, was Polly Williams. She had admitted herself after a suicide attempt “over two slices of pizza. She goes on and reveals that, “dieting has always been a huge part of [her] life” and that she was “counting calories and counting fat by the time [she] was eleven” (Thin, 2006). She seemed to be making progress with her anorexia, but had trouble with some of the rules toward the end. Throughout the film, the patients would support another by encouraging each other to finish their food, such as a Polly’s struggle to eat her birthday cupcake. The other patients would also motivate each other and give one another insight on current dilemmas during group sessions which would help the recovery process.
Although Polly encouraged the group to do better, she also hindered recovery for other women by lying to staff members, sneaking off, when given a day pass, smoked in bathrooms and gave potential, dangerous medications to other patients. It was determined by the staff, to expel Polly because of the bad behavior would jeopardize the other women’s progress. Soon after Polly was expelled, she was still having trouble with purging and weight loss after being discharged from Renfrew.
In sub text, Polly moved back home, went back to school to study photography and was managing a studio. She soon died after at her residence in 2008 which was believed to be a suicide attempt. Furthermore, it was thought that Polly was verge to recovery, but when her stay at the Renfrew was cut short, the audience had little hope for her and she purged at the end of the film and left a sense of sadness for the future. Although her actions were not taken lightly, I feel as though she should have had another chance at the Renfrew treatment center.
Given the opportunity, I think the outcome of her future would have turned out differently. To expel Polly out of treatment for a few mistakes, seems unethical and other disciplinary actions should have been taken such as, segregation from other patients and more psychological counseling. Women who suffer from eating orders have a high mortality rate for negative self-worth, low self-esteem and overall, negative perception which hinders mental ability. Lastly, the youngest to be admitted into Renfrew was, Brittany Robinson.
She was admitted with liver damage, a low heart rate and hair loss after dropping from 185 to 97 pounds in less than a year. She described herself as a compulsive overeater from the age of 8, leading into compulsive dieting and anorexia from the age of 12, citing “a bad body image” and a craving for acceptance amongst her peers as her motivation to lose weight (Thin, 2006). Brittany also claimed her mother had an eating disorder and described a time when they chewed on bags of candy and spitting it out without swallowing.
Throughout the documentary, Brittany is unaffected by recovery and stresses that she just “wants to be thin” and told her nutritionist she purged twelve times since entering Renfrew. The documentary takes a turn for the worst when her insurance benefits runs out, forcing her to leave treatment early. She relapses back to purging and had lost weight rapidly. Given history of Brittany’s relapse and her young age, it would be difficult for her to maintain a successful weight. Being constantly surrounded by media images of thin women and her peers, combined with her adolescent mindset it will hinder treatment in the future.
In society and the media, women are more prone to discrimination or demands based on their looks. Women also naturally put more effort than men do into their looks, and will judge others more than their male counterparts based on appearances, both physical and material. For this reason, current social demands to be thinner in many cultures are pressuring women to be unnaturally thin, and eating disorders tend to arise more commonly than with men, who are under less pressure to look a certain way.
Eating disorders in men, however, can be manifested in a different way. In society, men are sought out to be big and strong, which may cause men to overeat instead to achieve that big body image but yet are subconscious about their weight. While anorexia and bulimia nervosa present a psychological challenge with early recognition and treatment, such diseases are not insurmountable. Media images and perceptions present a challenge but with proper thinking and support system, individuals can begin to overcome these deadly diseases.