Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder & Eating Disorders: Is There a Link?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, is a common childhood disorder. ADHD can often persist into adolescence and adulthood. The prevalence of ADHD is thought to be between 6-7% among children and adolescents and ~5% among adults (Willcutt, 2012).

Increasingly, evidence from multiple studies has pointed to comorbidity between ADHD and eating disorders (EDs). For example, one study found that young females with ADHD were 5.6 times more likely to develop clinical (i.e., diagnosable according to DSM-5) or subthreshold (i.e., sub-clinical) bulimia nervosa (BN) (Biederman et al., 2007). Another study found that found that 21% of female inpatients at an ED unit had six or more ADHD symptoms (Yates et al., 2009).

However, most previous studies are limited by the fact that they assessed comorbidity between ADHD and EDs among patients. This limits our ability to generalize these findings to community samples, where many … Continue reading →

Excessive, Obsessive, Compulsive? The Links Between OCD, OCPD and Excessive Exercise in Anorexia Nervosa

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 (… Continue reading →

Comorbid PTSD and Eating Disorders: Can Treating One Improve The Other?

Women with bulimia nervosa are three times more likely to struggle with PTSD than women without eating disorders, according to a study by Dansky and colleagues (1997). In that study, 37% of individuals with bulimia nervosa had lifetime PTSD, compared to 12% of women without eating disorders. That’s almost two in five.

Treating eating disorders is hard, but treating eating disorders with comorbid conditions is way harder. There is no consensus, it seems, as to what disorder(s) to treat first, or whether they should be treated simultaneously:

Brewerton (2004) suggests that eating problems should be addressed prior to treating PTSD because bingeing and purging contribute to a state of physical and emotional dysregulation. Fairburn (2008), however, suggests that significant comorbid disorders be treated prior to beginning CBT for eating disorders.

The issue is quite complex,

For example, the presence of severe depression, of which hopelessness and difficulty

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Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Women with Bulimia Nervosa

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is 3-5 times more prevalent in individuals with bulimia nervosa (BN) than those without (Dansky et al., 1997). However, the relationship between PTSD and BN–in particular, how PTSD might affect or moderate bulimic symptoms–remains largely unexplored. In a recent study, Trisha Karr and colleagues followed 119 women (20 with PTSD and BN, and 99 with BN only) for a 2 week period to investigate whether participants with comorbid PTSD + BN differed from those with BN only on the:

  1. Levels of negative affect (negative emotional state/mood) and affect variability (fluctuation between negative and positive states)
  2. Frequency of bulimic behaviours
  3. Relationship between emotional states (negative or positive affect) and bulimic behaviours

They used the ecological momentary assessment (EMA) tool to track behaviours and emotional states close to when they occurI’ve blogged about a study using EMA before (‘What’s The Point of Bingeing/Purging? And Why Continue reading →

Is Anorexia Nervosa a Subtype of Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Is anorexia nervosa a subtype of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)? Well, probably not, but don’t click the close button just yet. In this post, I’ll explore the relationship between anorexia nervosa and BDD, and discuss how understanding this relationship might help us develop better treatments for both disorders. 

Despite the fact that there are obvious similarities between the disorders, studies exploring the relationship between BDD and AN are few and far between. In a recent paper, published in the Clinical Psychology Review, Andrea Hartmann and colleagues summarized the current state of knowledge in the field. The review compared clinical, personality, demographic, and treatment outcome features of AN and BDD. I’ll summarize the key points of the paper in this post.

(I will be focusing on the relationship between AN and BDD, as opposed to EDs and BDD, because that’s the scope of the review article.)

First, what is body Continue reading →

Pills for Bites: The Alarming Link between Drug Abuse and Eating Disorders

The association between drug abuse and eating disorders (EDs) is not new. Since the 1970s, doctors have reported higher incidents of self-medication and drug abuse in a subset of eating disorder patients. Drugs, in this context, cover everything from laxatives and diet pills, to alcohol and street drugs.

The association between drug use and EDs is not shocking; however, the extent of the problem is likely overlooked.

In a report detailing the most comprehensive review on the topic, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse concluded: “Individuals with eating disorders are up to five times likelier to abuse alcohol or illicit drugs and those who abuses alcohol or illicit drugs are up to 11 times likelier to have eating disorders.”

The report is freely available online and I highly recommend reading the entire document.


The link between drug use and eating disorders is strong:

  • Between
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Is Anorexia Nervosa an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorders (ADs) are common among patients with eating disorders. In one study of female inpatients, around 50-65% had a comorbid anxiety disorder (see my post here). Anxiety disorders in patients with anorexia nervosa (AN) typically begin before the eating disorder and often persist after weight restoration and recovery (Bulik et al., 1997; Casper, 1990). Moreover, previous twin studies have suggested that there’s a “correlation between eating disorders and certain anxiety and depressive disorders, suggesting they comprise a spectrum of inherited phenotypes” (Hudson et al., 2003; Mangweth et al., 2003).

In this paper, Michael Strober and colleagues hypothesized that anxiety disorders and anorexia nervosa share common genetic, neural, and/or behavioural mechanisms. As such, they sought to investigate the association of AN with ADs by studying the prevalence of ADs in first-degree relatives of AN patients and comparing it to the prevalence of ADs in first-degree relatives of Continue reading →

3 Personality Subtypes in Eating Disorder Patients: Which One Fits You?

Scientists love classifying and categorizing things they study. But it can be a double-edged sword. Classification can lead to new insights about etiology or new treatment methods. But classification can also hamper our understanding. For example, researchers like to classify and study anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa as if they are two wholly separate disorders, but clinicians know that most patients fluctuate between diagnoses, and as a result often fall into the eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) category.

Nonetheless, if we keep in mind that the way in which we classify things can be very artificial and may not necessarily reflect some fundamental truths about the subject matter, we can focus on extracting the insights gained from the classifications.

In the case of eating disorders, classifying patients into subtypes may be useful for developing successful treatment approaches suited for particular patient subgroups.

Previous research on this topic has identified … Continue reading →

Is Anorexia Nervosa a Version of Autism Spectrum Disorders?

Patients with anorexia nervosa often have difficulties recognizing and regulating emotions. This  conclusion that is largely based on data from  common tests such as Reading the Mind in the Eyes assessing  emotion recognition, and questionnaires like Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS) assessing emotion regulation (see my post here).  Although that study compared currently ill patients with healthy controls (thus raising the possibility that the resulting data was due to the effects of starvation or due to the chronic nature of the ED  in the sample, ~7.5 year on average), there is some evidence that some of these difficulties persist post-recovery.

Individuals with autism (ASD, or autism spectrum disorders) also have difficulties with emotion recognition and regulation, leading some investigators to hypothesize that AN and ASD may share common etiology. Providing further support for this hypothesis are studies suggesting that AN might be overrepresented in ASD … Continue reading →

Eating Disorders: Do Men and Women Differ?

Given that eating disorders disproportionately affect women, it is not unreasonable to assume that men differ from women in clinical presentation, personality and psychological characteristics. My guess would be that they differ. My reasoning is this: males and females grow up facing different pressures and expectations. Given that, I’d think there would be (perhaps only slightly) different risk factors that predispose men and women to develop eating disorders. Thus, I’d think that different groups of men and women (i.e. with different personality characteristics, psychiatric comorbidities, and life experiences) would be susceptible to EDs. (Hopefully that makes sense.) To answer that question, Dr. D. Blake Woodside and colleagues compared men with eating disorders vs. women with eating disorders vs. men without eating disorders.

Why are females much more likely to suffer from eating disorders than males? It appears that (at least) two arguments have been put forth:

One argument has been

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