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Anorexia dramatically shortens lifespan

Posted Aug 23 2008 10:35pm
Are you scared yet? A new study showed that anorexia can shorten your lifespan by 25 years .

Researchers in British Columbia reported that :

"Their number-crunching revealed, for instance, that a woman who develops the disorder at age 15 will live on average to age 56 - 25 years less than the average Canadian female.

"Anorexia nervosa is basically not recognized as a serious disease by society and government, in my opinion, certainly not compared to heart disease and cancer," said Dr. Laird Birmingham, the University of British Columbia psychiatry professor who led the research.

"Most people have a picture of supermodels who lose too much weight because of dieting and think ‘How pathetic is that?' "

The findings might also counter a stigma that has turned the disease into a "modern-day leprosy," he said."

However, Birmingham also noted that those who recovered from the disorder--especially after a short duration of illness--might very well not suffer from a shortened lifespan.

While I think these dramatic statistics are crucial to getting more research funding for anorexia and other eating disorders, I'm not sure of the effect on sufferers.

Of course, when you're in the thick of it, you never think this (osteoporosis, kidney failure, heart problems) will happen to YOU. Even more, "shortened lifespan" is awfully abstract. When you're starving but so afraid of food you can't eat, I might think this knowledge would only make the anxiety worse. I knew, instinctively, that what I was doing wasn't normal or good or healthy. I wanted it to be, and so I convinced myself that it was.

But I felt a necrosis inside of me. I knew I was slowly dying. I probably very well would have responded to the knowledge that if I'm going to die early, I may as well die thin . Ultimately, I was (still am, I suppose) more afraid of living with anorexia than dying from it.

I'm not saying this research should be done because of the twisted psyche of those in the throes of anorexia. But I am wondering whether it will propel sufferers to recovery. It would be nice. I don't think anyone would deny that. Would it be enough ?

Mostly, what I think it underscores is the importance of early intervention and early treatment. We need to stop thinking of an eating disorder as a choice and food as a choice. It's not. This is still a life or death matter. Waiting for a sufferer to fear a shortened lifespan may come too late.
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