Anorexia nervosa is one of medicine’s biggest mysteries. Doctors have been trying to make sense of it for hundreds of years. From the outside, anorexia seems inexplicable. More than that— it’s a perversion and a denial of the force that animates every living creature. We’ve come to understand suicide as the urge of a moment, with permanent consequences. But anorexia plays out over weeks, months, years. It’s not a single moment of despair, an impulsive turn of the wheel that sends you headfirst into traffic. You need to be determined and stoic to suffer the slow whittling of flesh into bone, the painful alchemies of the starving body. Anorexia makes no sense as suicide; it’s too indirect. Its bizarre and ritualistic elements seem like they must have some purpose beyond death.