Teacher, Learn Thyself: Critical Issues in School-Based Eating Disorder Prevention

Prevention programs for eating disorders abound, though many people I’ve talked to (mostly on Twitter, because that’s where I have a lot of discussions of this type) have expressed the sentiment that limited resources might be better spent on early intervention or treatment in general. Still, it isn’t hard to understand why we still optimistically aim for eating disorder prevention; of course we would rather stop eating disorders in their tracks, before they wreak havoc on the lives of people and their loved ones. I’ve written about my own take on the “is prevention possible” debate elsewhere, highlighting some of my concerns, as well as some more optimistic sentiments about truly systemic prevention efforts.

One of the things I am most concerned about is the fact that prevention tends to take place in the school context, delivered by teachers who may or may not know much about eating disorders … Continue reading →

Histamine and Anorexia Nervosa

Most of us have at some point in our lives taken antihistamines–drugs that block the action of histamine (e.g., Claritin, Allegra)–to relieve allergy symptoms. And while histamine is best known for its role in the immune response, it also has many other important roles in the central nervous system.

In the brain, histamine release is important for arousal (this is why antihistamines tend to make us drowsy). It has also been implicated in regulating appetite, taste perception, learning, memory, aggressive behavior, motivation, and emotion, among others (Yoshizawa et al., 2009; see this quick summary).

Alterations in histamine signalling in the brain have been implicated in a variety of disorders, including schizophrenia (Iwabuchi et al., 2005), depression (Kano et al., 2004), and multiple sclerosis (Wikipedia has a nice summary chart; or you can read this open paper for more details, too).… Continue reading →

Eating Disorder Recovery In a Non-Normative Body

Do you think it is easier for someone to recover from an ED when they have a more normative or stereotypically desirable body? Versus, say, an obese person who will never stop hearing extremely triggering stuff about their body type everywhere they turn? . . .

This post was originally written in response to the above question that was posed to Tetyana on the SEDs Tumblr (you can see the full question and Tetyana’s response here).

This is an interesting and timely question, and one that drives much of my research: I’m interested in knowing which bodies are easily accepted as “recovered,” and how body privilege (i.e., unasked for benefits associated with having a body that is perceived as “normal” in sociocultural context, to oversimplify) might play into the experience of recovery.

Tied into the question, I’ve been wondering, lately: Can one only hold themselves up as a beacon … Continue reading →

Disordered Eating and Athletic Performance: Where’s the Line?

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 … Continue reading →

Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Useful, Useless, or Worse?

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week came and went (in the US, anyway). Posters were shared, liked, and tweeted. Pretty (but often misguided) infographics made the rounds on the internet. Local ED groups visited schools and college campuses to educate students about eating disorders. To, you know, increase awareness. 

The thing is, awareness is not always a good thing. For one, as Carrie over at ED Bites mentioned, there’s a whole lot of misinformation masquerading as fact. And two, awareness campaigns, even when the information in them is correct, may have unintended consequences, like, for example, increasing stigma or self-stigma.

Moreover, not all approaches to increasing awareness or decreasing stigma are equally effective, and the effectiveness of a particular approach may differ depending on the population studied.

So, what about the effectiveness of EDAW? In 2012, Kathleen Tillman and colleagues published a study looking at … Continue reading →

Impossible Binaries? Eating Disorders Among Trans Individuals

Recently I was doing some research for an upcoming (and very exciting)  endeavour that involves exploring eating disorders among LGBTQ individuals. As one does, I set about scouring the research literature in this area in the hopes of stumbling across some prior articles on which to hang my proverbial research hat.

As I sifted through the databases, however, my searches kept coming up short. After sending out a call to a list-serv enquiring about the state of the field in this area, I received many responses highlighting the gap that surrounds trans individuals in particular. While this is good news for arguing for the value in conducting research in this area, it is discouraging news when it comes to understanding and attending to the experiences of trans people with eating disorders.

All this is to say, it seems as though now is as good a time as any to dip … Continue reading →

You Sure You Want to Eat That? Perceived Consequences of Eating & Its Relation to Recovery

I recently had a total Aha! moment (or a why-didn’t-I-ever-think-of-it moment) when I had chanced upon a recently published article titled “Eating Expectancies in Relation to Eating Disorder Recovery” by Fitzsimmons-Craft and colleagues. The title caught my attention because I had never come across any research tying eating expectancies to eating disorders, though I was familiar with the concept from the health psychology and obesity literature. Eating, as a behaviour and as a mechanism, is incredibly complex, with many factors contributing to why and how we eat; eating expectancies are one such factor.

Expectancy theory, first proposed by Tolman (1932), suggests that expectancies, or assumptions about the consequences of various behaviours, develop as a result of one’s learning history (Smith et al., 2007). Such expectancies are thought to influence subsequent behavioural choices, with one acting to either increase the likelihood of reward … Continue reading →

Demystifying the Genetic and Environmental Influences on Disordered Eating

Genetics play an important role in the development of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviours. To date, many (over 30!) twin studies have been done and all but two found significant genetic effects on the development of eating disorders and disordered eating. However, no methodology is without limitations and tentative conclusions become more convincing when the findings are confirmed using different experimental approaches.

Twin studies, while they offer many advantages, are not that good when it comes to detecting shared environmental effects on a particular trait (literally, evens that happen to both twins and affect them in the same way). Fortunately, twin studies are just one of several different ways that researchers can use to study heritability(A quick reminderHeritability measures the amount of the variability in an observable trait/behaviour that can be attributed to genetic variation. This is NOT the same as … Continue reading →

How Much Can We Learn About Eating Disorders From Animal Research?

I have been studying the neurobehavioral aspects of food and drug reinforcement for the past 5 years (read more about it on my profile page). This involves using rats to mimic basic human behaviors surrounding food and drug intake. I then manipulate various neurotransmitter systems by using drugs and observe the effects this manipulation has on the behaviors I am interested in.

What’s important to this type of research is that we constantly challenge and evaluate the validity of using these animal models to study complex human diseases and disorders. Validity can be divided into several categories, but I’m going to focus on two in particular and relate them to an animal model of binge food intake.  These two types of validity are predictive validity and construct validity:

  1. Predictive validitywhen comparing animal research to human research, refers to the ability for some measure of animal behavior
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Calorie Restriction, Anorexia Nervosa, and Memory Gaps

This post has been translated into Russian by Polina here.

I have often heard anorexia nervosa sufferers complain of “memory gaps,” particularly during the times they were really sick. As if they weren’t really there.  It can be scary and unnerving, to say the least. A few months ago, a Tumblr user asked me about this:

Hi Tetyana, I’m not sure if this is merely based on my own subjective experience of if there is any grounding at all, but I was wondering if there could perhaps be a link between EDs and a sort of memory loss. It’s hard to describe but I definitely seem to have huge “gaps” in my memory of during that time, as if I selectively block things out. I have limited inaccurate knowledge with regards to memory on a molecular/neurological basis so I do not know if there’s anything there. Perhaps with calorie

Continue reading →