If a person severely restricts his diet and exercises for hours each day, he has an eating disorder. If another does exactly the same but it is because she wants to make the lightweight rowing team (which has an upper weight limit), she’s a committed athlete. When the two overlap, and an athlete presents with eating disorder symptoms, how do we distinguish between the demands of the sport and the illness?
I’ve been interested in the distinctions we make between disordered and non-disordered eating and exercise behaviours for a while now. Recently, when I was browsing through articles, I came across a literature review by Werner et al. (2013) (open access) of studies examining weight-control and disordered eating behaviours in young athletes.
The authors start by noting the sheer lack of research that has actually been done in this area. This is worrying: typical onset of eating disorders is during adolescence, and research indicates that athletes are more likely to develop these disorders, leaving young athletes in what appears to be a high-risk position.
Werner et al. searched …
In 1967, Routtenberg and Kuznesof reported a very peculiar phenomenon in rats:
They discovered that when rats were on a restricted feeding schedule (1 hour per day in their experiment) and had free access to a running wheel, their food intake was significantly lower than in control rats, which were on the same feeding schedule but without access to a running wheel. This discrepancy between increased running activity and decreased food intake caused substantial body weight loss, and if rats were not removed from the experimental setup timely, they would eventually die of starvation. This model, later named the activity-based anorexia (ABA) model, is one of the most widely used animal models for the study of anorexia nervosa (AN). (Source)
Of course, rats are not humans. Nonetheless, animal models of anorexia nervosa can inform us of some of the underlying neuropsychological and physiological influences and consequences of anorexia nervosa.They can help us understand what leads to and happens as a result of self-induced weight loss, restriction, and hyperactivity.
The benefit of using the ABA model (all …
Achieving a healthy weight is a major goal of anorexia nervosa treatment. Indeed, a healthy weight is often seen as a prerequisite for psychological recovery. The fact that weight restoration is a crucial component of recovery is uncontroversial, the problem arises when it comes to determining what constitutes a healthy weight. How are ideal, optimal, or goal weights set? And who gets to decide?
Despite its recognized importance, there’s surprisingly little consensus on how target weight should be determined. Moreover, as Peter Roots and colleagues found out, when it comes to inpatient treatment centres in the UK and Europe, there is little consistency too.
In a study published in 2006, Roots et al. examined how treatment centres determine, monitor, and use target weight in the treatment of adolescents with anorexia nervosa. They also wanted to know the centres’ expected rate of weight gain, how often patients were weighed, who was involved in setting the target weight, and how target weights were used in the “therapeutic process and discharge planning.” They sent out questionnaires to 28 specialist inpatient ED services (17 …
The challenges of treating anorexia nervosa are plenty; some of these challenges — like low prevalence rate and high treatment dropout rate — make conducting randomised controlled trials aimed at identifying effective treatment methods really hard as well.
So I was pretty excited about the recently published randomised controlled trial comparing focal psychodynamic therapy (FPT), cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), and optimised treatment as usual in adult (a harder to treat demographic than adolescents) anorexia nervosa patients.
Reading the paper, I was pretty impressed with how good the study design was; I’m not going to go into all the nitty-gritty details, but if you have access to and the chance to read the paper, do it. You’ll appreciate, I think, the amount of effort that went into this.
Patients were recruited from ten universities across Germany. They had to be adult females with a BMI between 15-18 and with no current substance use, psychotic or bipolar disorders. In total, 242 individuals started the study (80 in the FPT and CBT groups, and 82 in the treatment as usual group). …
This may sound counterintuitive at first, but I’m thankful for two aspects of my eating disorder, which I believe helped me make the choice to aim towards recovery: the development of binge eating after chronic food restriction and the physical inability to purge through self-induced vomiting. Like many individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa that go on to develop binge eating, I tended to choose high-fat foods and sweets as my “go-to” food items. I had always enjoyed such foods and was a notorious junk food aficionado as a young girl (way before any eating disorder symptoms developed). Once the bingeing behavior started, I couldn’t stop.
Sitting with the discomfort after a binge made me seriously consider whether this was something I could maintain for any lengthy period of time, and that’s when I started getting help. In a sense, I believe my affection for sweet foods, and propensity to binge on them, was a “life saver” of sorts. I also think these behaviors got me used to eating foods that I had deemed “forbidden” while I was restricting. With this forced confrontation, I …
What is different about anorexia nervosa sufferers that, in contrast to most dieters, enables them to maintain a persistent calorie deficit? Although no one can truthfully claim they know the full answer to that question, we do know that part of the answer most likely lies with serotonin (5-HT), a molecule that neurons use to communicate with each other.
I’ve written about serotonin in the context of anorexia nervosa before, so I’ll just do a brief summary of the important points here:
Given that serotonin mediates a lot of psychological and physiological traits associated with anorexia nervosa, and given that altering food intake affects how much serotonin is made in our bodies, it is no surprise that it has been a popular research target among eating disorder researchers.
Two important findings that are particularly relevant to the study I will discuss below are:
These findings suggest that individuals with AN may have premorbid (or intrinsic) abnormalities in the serotonergic system (elevated 5-HT activity compared to healthy controls), which may mediate behavioural and/or temperamental traits that in turn predispose these …
Excessive exercise played a big role in my eating disorder and, predictably, I am drawn to studies that look at the role excessive exercise plays in eating disorder symptomatology, course and outcome. This topic has captured the interest of many eating disorder researchers, with studies revealing that up to 80% of individuals with anorexia nervosa may exercise excessively (Davis et al., 1997), though others suggest more modest statistics, around 39% (Shroff et al., 2006; Tetyana wrote a post about this article here).
Scholars have also noted the potentially obsessive and compulsive nature of exercise among some individuals with eating disorders and have made the natural transition toward examining whether links exist between excessive exercise and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and/or obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) traits (If you are confused about the difference between OCD and OCPD, click here). Young, Rhode, Touyz & Hay (2013) conducted a rigorous systematic review to synthesize and draw conclusions from the results of such studies.
The authors aimed to clarify the links between both OCPD traits and OCD …
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