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Who would frame somebody with a Gardenburger?

In the real world, probably, no one. At the Renfrew Center in Florida, where the documentary THIN takes place, one anorexic named Shelly believes the staff of the rehabilitation center does.

Lauren Greenfield’s debut as a documentary filmmaker is not for the faint of heart. In the United States, we have come to believe that the food we are eating is making us fat, which it is. The majority of American adults are clinically overweight or obese (more than 63 percent according to 2005 studies).  However, there are also five million people who suffer from eating disorders that keep them too thin. Greenfield opens the film with a little known and shocking truth: one in seven anorexic women will die from complications caused by their disease.

She takes us on a dark journey inside the Renfrew Center, one of a handful of treatment centers in the nation for women who suffer from anorexia or bulimia, most often both. We first meet Shelly, a psychiatric nurse who enters the clinic at a whopping 84.3 pounds. Polly comes to the center after attempting suicide over two “pieces” of pizza. She does admit on camera that the cheesy-doughy goodness wasn’t the only thing that led her to slice her wrists, but she adds, “that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Brittany is 15 and she’s had eating disorders since she was eight. She went from 185 pounds to 95 in one year and it becomes clear to the viewer that perhaps she didn’t have the best role model around her when she starts talking about the “chew and spit” candy parties that her mother initiated. When her mother comes to visit Brittany at the center, she picks through her plate right in front of her child. Another woman, Alisa, says she developed her eating disorder after hearing the pediatrician deem her fat when she was 7 years old. She recounts graphically a typical day in her life: She would drive to Dunkin’ Donuts and buy a dozen doughnuts then to Burger King and McDonald’s to buy large orders of breakfast items, all to bring them home, eat them in their entirety and vomit profusely afterwards.

The Renfrew Center is an interesting place, and not of the positive variety. Like most other mental institutions or homes for the elderly it is a very controlled environment with unfriendly staff. On top of being unsympathetic, several of the Renfrew’s staff are also obese women. Greenfield doesn’t explore this oddity much other than giving the viewer plenty of close-ups of the anorexic patients talking about their daily eating progress with one very large nurse. This nurse is the same one that interrogates Shelly about purging, claiming that a “half-digested” Gardenburger has been found in the trash in her room. We see Shelly yelling profanities about how long it has been since she had a Gardenburger and how she would readily admit indeed if she did purge. Nevertheless, it becomes a massive conspiracy for the staff. The nutritionist at a weekly “Team” meeting cites the incident as an example of why the staff should not be trusting Shelly. There is an eerie, Orwellian aspect to the way the staff interacts  with the patients, talking in terms of “what’s good for the Community” and etc. What’s good for the Community, apparently, is getting as much money out of these women and then dumping them out to the streets as soon as they start showing any sign of improvement. Polly, who early in the movie is told by the staff that she is doing well, later gets kicked out for smoking in the bathroom and for items confiscated during a room search that reminds one more of a federal penitentiary than a rehabilitation center. Brittany is sent back to her weight-obsessed mother for stoppage of insurance payments.

Greenfield does a marvelous job exposing this irony that anorexic women face: It is hard enough for them to seek help and in the end when they do, the hardest part of their journey begins. What Greenfield does not seem to explore though (perhaps for protection of privacy) is what causes these women to have such disorders. Eating disorders are an extension of deep emotional issues but we see little to no discussion during the therapy sessions as to what these problems might have been for the patients. It may very well be that the therapists were too incompetent to get the women to talk about what really bothered them, but if there was possible footage in this category, its inclusion would have contributed to the story. Another area that deserved more attention in the film is the quality (or lack there of) of food these women are exposed to both in and outside of Renfrew. They talk of eating fast food and at the end of the film Alisa and Shelly meet up at a horrendous restaurant serving up greasy chicken wings and nasty nachos. Perhaps the question that needed to be explored more was: “What do these women consider as food?” The only glimpse Greenfield gives us is Polly’s indignant face at the sight a birthday cupcake with vanilla icing and synthetic sprinkles when she declares, “All I wanted is a bran muffin.” Is it possible that these women would have reacted better to more wholesome, decent food throughout their lives and at the rehab center? 

Greenfield’s debut is not a must-see for everyone, nor is it an entertaining documentary to watch. There is a lot of purging and talking of purging, plenty of gruesome, count-the-ribs nudity and even a rather long ER-like bloody stomach-tube extraction scene. But if Greenfield’s research is correct, then, chances are many of us know at least one woman who might cause her death due to her eating disorders. To understand that person better and maybe to get inspired to reach out and hand her a bran muffin, go see THIN.

Umut Newbury


Director: Lauren Greenfield
HBO Films 2006
1 hour 42 minutes
Premieres on HBO: Nov. 14, 9 p.m. EST

Review this film and others for yourself.

Purchase this film at

Katerine on November 11th, 2006 at 7:36 am 

I am a former staff member of Renfrew. My former colleagues are to be praised for their dedication and compassion to the patients. I have forever been altered by the young women I helped.

As for your comment on “fat staff members”, this just reflects how embedded body judgments of women are in our society. No one should be judged for his or her job or any other aspect of living based on weight. It is negative attitudes like this that lead to eating disorders.

Shannon on November 14th, 2006 at 7:32 pm 

I am a former Renfrew patient, and can tell you that the staff at Renfrew is nothing but supportive, caring, and honestly, life saving. I went to Renfrew battling anorexia and bulimia for 10 years, and I was only 21! The staff at Renfrew was there every moment I needed them, whether it was 3pm or 3am. They are truly the most caring, supportive people I have met on my eating disorders journey. Do they have to say things that patients do not like? Yes, sometimes. Do they call us on our well, crap? Yes. And that is what makes the difference. I was ready for help when I went to Renfrew, and was so happy to find what I needed in every stafff member. It is truly a place of love, comfort, and hope.

I walked into Renfrew scared, crying, and VERY afraid of letting go of my eating disorder. Five years later, I am so greatful for all of the help I received, from everyone on staff. I am recovered, after a 10 year battle with my eating disorder. Do I still think about it? Of course, but less and less each day. I truly owe my life to all of the staff members at Renfrew. They helped me realize I was worth saving.

Jennifer on February 18th, 2007 at 5:03 pm 

Newbury, you are right. Renfrew is a bunch of let’s say not-so-thin, flat-affected so-called therapists. Renfrew should be ashamed of how they portrayed themselves in this film. However, it is not far off from real life where I have witnessed them gossip cruely about the girls and let them flounder in self-depricating/destructive behaviors even right there in the therapy groups without barely dealing with it. I, too, am a former Renfrew employee. It is a shame that they subject very sick patients to bad therapists that hide their inefficiencies behind a name like Renfrew. As I watched this movie I could hear myself wishing the girls could know something outside of this place, where real help can be found.

Alex on March 23rd, 2007 at 9:07 pm 

I agree. How do they expect those girls to get better when they’re constantly around obese people! I mean, i’ve never been to Renfrew before (Or any place like Renfrew actually) but as i watched that movie i could kind of understand why those poor girls didn’t want to eat- I know if I was around obese people all the time even i wouldn’t want to eat..And i don’t even have an ED!

And i also don’t understand why they are forced to eat food like cupcakes and pizza. Sure it will help them to put on weight- but shouldn’t they be doing it the healthy way? I’m not a professional, but wouldn’t the girls be happier to eat if they didn’t have to eat things like that?..

I feel sorry for those girls!

Rebecca on June 5th, 2007 at 1:19 pm 

I this most of you are ABSOLUTLY WRONG!!! I am a former resident at Renfrew and if it wasn’t for Renfrew i’d most likly be dead. Now i just want you people to know..that there is NO reason to “feel sorry for us girls” we went to a place to get help and while some of us did, other didn’t take the help they could have. eating disorders are SERIOUS and no matter what kind of food we are forced to eat weather a cupcake or salad, plan and simple ITS HARD. I am in recovery, yet i still struggle every day but i am sooooooo thankful for renfrew and i don’t want to hear bad things said about it.. so before you judge it.. go stay there for 6 weeks like i did !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rebecca on October 28th, 2007 at 5:45 pm 

This is harsh, man.

jojo on November 2nd, 2007 at 11:29 am 

i am writeing caue i have the same thing i am anereic my mom alway’s did the same thing she alway’s picked through her food right in front of me and i just thought that is was normal so i decited to try it.i became anereic when i was. io only 8 year’s old. i just wanted to say that. i young girl’s should think before the copy cat some one.i also think that is is wrong. this is my opion

Kristina on December 12th, 2007 at 7:37 pm 

First off I’ve been to Renfrew and I’m now been diagnosed as having experenced trauma. I was treated terribly and it was just awful there, ecspecially with being around other people with eating disorders When one person doesn’t eat I feel awful if I eat because then I’m not anorexic enough. Sick, right? I know that is why I have an eating disorder.
On the topic of let’s feed them bran muffins. To recover you need to get over food fears and for most patients the only place they are willing (or forced) to eat “junk” food is in treatment. Avoiding fear foods is staying in the eating disorder, so it is important to learn everything in moderation for both anorexics and bulimics (and compulsive overeaters to)

Eric on August 21st, 2008 at 6:29 am 

I am a male with an eating disorder. I find it amazing that this illness is strictly portrayed as a female disorder. In addition, I have contacted Renfrew in the past about my problem and I really got the feeling that males were really not welcome at their facility.

Elizabeth on September 29th, 2008 at 10:14 am 

I have to admit that when I watched this documentary, I thought of the women portrayed as being whiny, privelaged brats who just didn’t have a real enough notion of the world to appreciate the life they did have. It was really hard to watch them live in a nice facility, paid for by their health insurance in most cases, so that they could whine about their obsessions over being thin. I mean, there are millions of people in this country who don’t even have the health insurance to cover a simple visit to the doctor, let alone weeks on end in a treatment facility like this. Quite frankly, a lot of what the “girls” put themselves through seemed to totally be a battle of wills with the staff. I wonder what would happen if these young women were just left to their own devices with no treatment? Maybe the best treatment for some of these young women would be to send them to a place like Sudan or India, where millions of people struggle each day to just find a simple meal. Or to some of the destitute places in this very country where people don’t have enough to eat, health insurance, or a decent roof over their heads. I realize that EDs are largely the result of our body-concious society, but I feel that people who buy into all that body-image BS are just weak and sort of stupid.

Heather on December 16th, 2008 at 8:16 pm 

Eating disorders are not “largely the result of a body-conscious society”. Simple research on the history of anorexia will serve as proof of this, as most eating disorders existed WELL before LA started flashing double-zeros around. Ignorance about eating disorders is part of what propagates their existence as epidemics. As someone who has struggled with anorexia in the past (and who isn’t a whiny priviledged brat), I am disappointed in some of the comments I have read here. Especially the one posted above, which reeks of the ignorance, stupidity, and intelectual weakness to which the sufferers of eating disorders are being falsly attributed.
It’s not about bran muffins or cupcakes, it’s not about food. The fact that people still behave as if eating disorders are about food is, to be, absolutely mind-boggling. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the staff are unpleasant or mean.

elizabeth on January 20th, 2009 at 7:09 pm 

i agree with heather. At 17years old, i have been in and out of treament centers for the last few years. And eating disorders arent really about the food. Its about emotions that we express through food or emotions that are taken out through eating habits. Or like me, its from post traumatic stress. Many ED patients, myself included, were victims of physical and/or sexual abuse that led to the ED.
And about the bran muffin, we had those at my treatment centers. Everyone wanted Bran muffins for breakfast because they were a starch AND a fat exchange. Usually cupcakes were the same, so the bran muffins was a good deal.

Anyways, anorexics and bulimics are usually middle class, not upper class. And although i am american, i have lived in 16 other countries (for my dads job) and i have seen how the people in other countries live. It makes me feel bad because im wasting food by throwing it up or throwing it away, but it dosent make me stop.

Jen on June 4th, 2009 at 4:09 pm 

Eric, I spent three months in IP earlier during the winter, and I have to say that Rosewood Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona is an absolute recommendation for anyone. amazing staff, beautiful setting, great docs that all specialize IN eating disorders, and they take men and treat them well, too. In fact two of my best friends are guys I met there!

CT on July 24th, 2009 at 6:07 am 

I had anorexia and bulimic tendencies and for the calorie counters would it be possible to “wein” the girls away from like forstarters I took in exactly 1150.3 calories to like i tookn in roughly 1100 somthing today so far so maby an applo later..somthing like that??

KL on August 10th, 2009 at 2:34 am 

I cannot believe someone would ever say that the staff at Renfrew Florida was anything shy of supportive. As a former rebelling resident that had my fair share of run-ins with one or two staff members, when all was said and done I was the person in the wrong. I just didn’t want the support they were trying to give me. I wanted to stay sick and their job was to drag me out of it. If they would have fallen over and played along with my little games, I would at best still be extremely sick or dead. I had therapists there wait and talk with me for 30 minutes until my therapist was available. I at the time did not like the structure, but guess what- it works. I am now healthy and living a new life and have new dreams. They do an excellent job with trying to handle patients that are in a very lost state and will say hateful things to the very people that are trying to save them. I did not have an easy road through the level systems there, so it’s not like I got my way and can now give an inaccurate view of what it’s like at Renfrew. I’ve never cried more in my life, never felt more alone, and never wanted to quit more than I did while I was inpatient in Florida. What you put in is what you get out of that place. I made a decision while I was there to do what my treatment team suggested I do. The coping tools I learned there has saved my recovery out of the “Renfrew Bubble”. Oh, and that nurse who is mentioned in such a negative manner- I was so rude to her at first. For some odd reason I had to go to the hospital for stomach problems (not ED related) and she was the one who talked to me over the phone in the middle of the night when I was alone and scared in the hospital. Renfrew saved my life and I hate that someone would try and say they aren’t capable of doing the same for others.

JAck on November 5th, 2009 at 10:21 am 

Yo, I agree with your review, the workers at renfrew are a bunch of fat fucking pig fuckers. Not only that but them skinny whiny bitches are so stupid and they need to learn how to properly commit suicide(up and down not side to side cutting of the wrists)

Mo on December 11th, 2009 at 4:34 pm 

I am someone with anorexia that I’m struggling with right now. As someone suffering from the disorder, but not having been in treatment (and I don’t want it, but it’s interesting to watch) as well as a degree in psychology, I can see both sides. The Renfrew staff aren’t mean or out of line when they do the things they do, nor do they treat the patients like inmates. They HAVE to be harsh if the patients are going to get over their disease.
They can’t be all hugs and kisses all the time.
Anorexia is all about lies and deciet, therefore the staff cannot and should not be too kind to the patients. Nor should they be too harsh. The gardenburger thing was a perfect example – the nutritionist made the right call, in my opinion. If she thought Shelly was being deceitful, she should have told her. She later apologized for the wrongful conviction as well.

This was a fabulous documentary and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I watch it at least once a week.

whatever on December 15th, 2009 at 9:34 pm 

Okay, first: I have an eating disorder. I still struggle with it. There were times when I tried so f’ing hard to get admitted to a good clinic and it wasn’t possible because they are too damn expensive. It is something you suffer with everyday, a voice in your head that you wish would get the f*** out of there, and it runs your entire life. I hate it with a passion…And I initially I envied the girls in the film for being able to have the ability to get admitted somewhere nice like that….
I watched the film 3 times. I was amazed at how the place worked…And not in a good way. I was stunned. Especially at Jodi Krumholtz, the nutritionist. What a rude, horrible person. When Brittany is opening up to her, she throws the admission to purging back in her face so that the girl feels compelled to keep things to herself even MORE. Before that Brittany asks her “I’ve heard some things about how water can put more weight on you than food does” and the nutritionist asks where she heard that, and Brittany says it’s just been “flying around” and the nutritionist, in her condescending bitch manner says “Well should you listen to the other ED patients or should you listen to your nutritionist”. Everytime I watched that part I wanted to scream, THAT IS WHY BRITTANY IS ASKING YOU, YOU DUMB BITCH. GIVE HER ADVICE, GIVE HER FACTS, GIVE HER INFORMATION, DON’T BE A RUDE BITCH. The girl is obviously sensitive and constantly trembling and the nutritionist can’t pull her head out of her own ass to realize that she can be warm and supportive and kind and just give her the right information…She’s FIFTEEN YEARS OLD, you fool. I’m not even gonna begin talking about the horrible manner in which she treated Polly….
Anyways….If Jodi Krumholtz ever happens to read this, I think she should be ashamed of herself for being such a cruel, coldhearted bitch.
I think that in order to successfully help people get over EDs, there needs to be some involvement of people who have successfully gotten over EDs as an example and as somebody that can show some empathy and compassion – And also show them how they found their way out. None of the therapists in the film has had an ED and I know this, so how do they expect to help girls with EDs???!?!?!

Also, I looked up Jodi Krumholtz on facebook and her picture looks like she’s posing with Polly’s male therapist…If he’s banging her…Ewww….Not cool.

whatever on December 15th, 2009 at 9:36 pm 

oh and when i mentioned Polly earlier, I meant to say Shelly. Pollack “Polly” Ann Williams has passed away, may she rest in peace.

Shaun Antley (Ki) on March 24th, 2010 at 1:10 pm 

I have the DVD. It only works a lttle bit because it Has scratches on it but I watch it over an over anyways. I`m obsesed with it. I just love polly. She`s the only one with spunk. It`s sad that her friends turned against her and that she was kicked for prescirption drugs and a tat. It really bites that she passed away with her feb 8 thingy. Rest in peace!. :)

Brie on September 20th, 2010 at 8:31 pm 

I was a patient at Renfrew and treated terribly also. I had problems with self-injury and post traumatic stress disorder on top of my eating disorder and when I did self-injure there, they made me sleep on two chairs in the nursing station and eventually kicked me out. There wasn’t even talk as to why I had hurt myself. Nobody even cared if I was having a flash back or something of that sort. I absolutely detest that place. I would never go back. I was kicked out on a day that my therapist wasn’t even there, so she didn’t even have a say. The only nice staff there were Jen, Erin, the secretary and Miss Renee. I do agree though, that avoiding fear foods is staying in the disorder. The end. I have nothing more to say except that if you don’t like my opinion please don’t respond negatively, just state your opinion respectfully and I will be happy to hear it. :)

Rosewood Ranch on October 29th, 2010 at 7:09 pm 

It is a shame that they subject very sick patients to bad therapists that hide their inefficiencies behind a name like Renfrew.

Mario on November 5th, 2010 at 6:31 am 

Thinn ass bitches eat more.

Amy on December 8th, 2010 at 7:13 pm 

I just left Renfrew and after reading these comments I am appauled. Wahh “I was treated terribly.”Suck it up! The staff doesn’t treat you terribly. They are there to help you. If you want to know what being treated terribly is-go to a lock down facility! Renfrew was an amazing place. The trauma track is one of a kind. In other places they like to push the trauma under the rug and act like it’s non-existant.

And to those that are trash talking Renfrew.. why did you waste your time? There are people out there that WANT to be there… people that die before they even get the chance(more like a gift) at treatment.

Kylie RavensCroft on February 8th, 2012 at 1:35 pm 

Polly forgive me if I`m doing a no no. —— Personally when people you count on for comfort decide to crap on you in every direction (shelly) and to sorry your good rep with childish ‘happy spirit’ (alisa)time when you`re kicked out and make someone feel worse than they already do with this very date four years ago being the direct result of it. I sure hope they`re thinking about what they`ve done. I love you, Polly.

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Danielle on August 3rd, 2015 at 5:24 pm 

If they only had healthier food at these eating disorder rehabilitation centers how many more may have the courage to go for their recovery.
When I went for help I was fed junk food and fatty packaged foods. My peers were made to eat a pork chop with fat smothering the side of it. They had a large peice of Italian bread and potatoes with some veggies and a fruit. Sad thing was the had to eat all that food in a small amount of time. The only thing they were told to leave is the bone.
Every day they fed us stuff like sugar cereal for snacks with a banana and peanut butter that’s a lot if you have an eating disorder.
If you had a phobia let’s say you were afraid of the dark would you feel safe if someone locked you in a dark closet and said their not going to let you out until you over come that fear. That is how it feels in a wickenburg ranch I went too. I pretended to be recovered the staff was very mean. The place was infested with spiders. And they made us eat swine. When got out I started running working out taking laxatives like crazy I dropped from 95 lbs to 73 lbs and was in critical condition . I had a pick line put in my vain and was fed through a feeding tube and stayed in the hospital all month my heart kidneys and liver were failing. I came out of the hospital afraid of going back to recovery I started hiding the anorexia with doing bulimic tendencies. I lost control now I am full fledged bulimic. I hate it. I feel hopeless.
me and my friend are to scared to go to a recovery center. They don’t help anyone recover they just put weight on their clients and send them out hoping for their return for another whopping $1600 a day pay for three months.

A. L. on August 22nd, 2016 at 9:21 pm 

Inpatient at Renfrew 2 times. Horrible. Too focused on weight/punishment/rewards…meal plans, triggers, BS groups. Therapists ‘observing’ this or that but not teaching how to deal with the root issues. It’s about traumatic refeeding to gain weight to be reimbursed by insurance. I was almost discharged on full bedrest day three when they messed up and thought insurance wasn’t paying. I felt no comfort. I was accused, shamed, threatened. Girls say it’s like camp and they liked it. they didn’t have real ED’s. Treatment is serious, but not at the Renfrew center.

Del on September 28th, 2018 at 10:16 pm 

I was also at the Renfrew Center. I honestly feel the depiction of Renfrew was rather one-sided. In almost any workplace you will have your share of good workers and bad. There also all shades of grey in between. Some who are not very educated but well meaning. Some who are better educated and use that as a weapon. There were all kinds of staff like this at Renfrew. Jodi is definitely shown in her worst light here. But it was Jodi in her totally direct manner that if I missed one more meal I could die, she wasn’t kidding. I was 88lbs and literally killing myself. It was the slap in the face I needed. It was harsh and thank goodness I had a great therapist who helped me put things in a better perspective that really saved me. They deleted some really powerful scenes of the the girls speaking with some of the counselors. You could see the counselors were really listening and trying to get the girls to open up about their traumas. Because trust me, there is always trauma. We don’t wake up one morning deciding to hate food. It is about control. When you feel like your whole life is a mess and you are powerless to do anything about it there is one thing you can control. Your food intake. This is explored constantly at Renfrew and this was not shown. It is true insurance does play a huge part in their program though. If you can get in Renfrew you have to be willing to give up control. It is the hardest part of the program. Renfrew teaches that food isn’t our enemy. Our brains are. This place is definitely a 2 way street. You get out what you put in. The problem this documentary shows is that the girls sometimes aren’t considered as people anymore. We are just walking eating disorders. Not enough done for the individual. At a place like this with so many girls, this is just standard procedure. It is never the person talking it is the ED. I just wrote a novel and didn’t even scratch the surface of what goes on there. They need to make a new documentary focusing on every aspect of the treatment.

Troy Armstrong on April 15th, 2020 at 12:01 am 

I share your opinion for the most part, I presume that a few things are worth having a more sophisticated appearance
to understand what’s happening.

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