Professionals deem anorexia nervosa a devastating illness, as it has one of the highest mortality rates for a psychiatric disorder. Some people even see it as a life sentence: once you are diagnosed with the illness, you will have to deal with the symptoms for the rest of your life.
A recent study conducted at the Massachusetts General Hospital, however, gave people with the condition a much-needed glimmer of hope. Disproving previous studies, the researchers say that most of the people who were diagnosed with anorexia eventually do recover. Just like in most things, to recover, people only need time and patience.
The Onerous Task of Isabelle Caro
French model Isabelle Caro became the face of anorexia when she posed nude for an Italian campaign that aimed to raise awareness about the disease. The ad, photographed by Oliviero Toscani, showed the gaunt body of Caro, who had been battling the condition since she was 13.
According to Caro, she posed for the ad because she wanted to show herself without fear and to show young people how dangerous the disease is. Three years after the posing for the campaign, Caro passed away in an Italian hospital from dehydration. Professionals concluded that anorexia played a huge factor in her death.
Isabelle Caro, however, is just one of many whose passing can be partially blamed on the disorder.
Old Studies Say: Anorexia is Lifelong
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders (ANAD) estimates that about 1% of women in America will develop anorexia in their lifetime. According to some researchers, moreover, about one in five anorexia-related deaths are by suicide.
A 1999 study conducted by researchers from Harvard Medical School, moreover, revealed that while two-thirds of people with Bulimia recovered fully, only one third of individuals with anorexia were reported to have recovered. Moreover, people with anorexia are less likely to make a partial recovery; relapse is common issue.
Recovery is a Possibility
New research, however, brought a glimmer of hope for people struggling with the disease. More than checking in to treatment centers for anorexia, two things are reportedly essential to the recovery of people with the disorder: time and patience.
Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital followed 256 participants with eating disorders since 1987. Of the respondents, 110 had bulimia and 136 had anorexia.
During the first decade, the researchers interviewed the participants every six months to a year. Then, after the study began, researchers contacted them at a point between 20 to 25 years to check for any recovery signs. Recovery, as defined in the study, refers to the absence of symptoms for an entire year.
Results from the end of the first decade reflected the recovery trends mentioned earlier. Recovery was easier for people with bulimia. When the researchers, however, got in touch with respondents for the final follow-up, the number of people with anorexia who reported recovery jumped from 31.4% to 62.8%. The recovery rate for bulimia, meanwhile, stayed at 68.2%.
The researchers concluded that while recovery from bulimia nervosa happened earlier, healing continues over the long term for those with anorexia nervosa.