I was saddened to read today of a woman in York, England, who died of complications from anorexia. Carole Patrick had struggled with anorexia for 30 years, according to this article. Chronic malnutrition led to osteoporosis, which led to a fall that broke her hip and made it impossible for her to recover when complications developed.
But I was shocked to read this line, buried in the article:
York Coroner Donald Coverdale, recording a verdict of death by misadventure, said her death was the “unfortunate and unintended consequence of a medical condition arguably under her control."
You would think medical people, at least, would understand that anorexia is not a choice. Anyone who's ever watched someone they love suffer with an eating disorder understands this basic fact; why can't the medical profession get it?
A few paragraphs down, a spokeswoman for BEAT, a UK-based organization supporting people with eating disorders, had this to say about anorexia:
. . . disorders such as anorexia were not a “diet gone wrong” or a fad or a fashion. “They are a way of coping with difficult thoughts, emotions or experiences,” she said.
In some ways, this shocked me even more. This is the old psychodynamic perspective on eating disorders, one that has been in vogue for 50+ years. Only thing is, there's absolutely no evidence that it's true.
The latest research points to genetics and heritability as primary factors in eating disorders. EDs run in families. They're associated with clinical levels of anxiety. Many people have difficult thoughts, emotions, and experiences; very few of them develop eating disorders.
I don't expect most people to understand anorexia; we have a lot of educating to do. But I do expect medical people and organizations like BEAT to know better--or to stop speaking for all those with eating disorders.