Sensing the Body: Bodily Experience in Anorexia Nervosa

I’ve been reading a lot of literature on bodies and eating disorders lately as I gear up to write the theoretical paper that becomes the basis of my PhD qualifying exam. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve become a little preoccupied with teasing out my understanding of the relationship between body image and eating disorders in an era in which even saying those words in the same sentence sparks visceral reactions among listeners.

This post is not about whether body image causes eating disorders or not (sorry to disappoint). It is, however, about one of the best articles I’ve stumbled across thus far that seeks to shed some light on the ways in which those with eating disorders (specifically anorexia nervosa, in this case) might experience bodily sensations, which in my view is much more interesting than quibbling about whether body image is the primary causal factor for eating disorders.

In the article, … Continue reading →

Recovering from an Eating Disorder in a Society that Loves Fat Shaming (and Dieting)

Is ED recovery easier when your body is “normative or stereotypically desirable”? The anon asking the question implied that recovery could be more difficult because “an obese person … will never stop hearing hearing extremely triggering stuff about their body type.” Anon asked, “Have there been any studies on this?” Andrea tackled this question in her last post (it might be helpful to read it first if you haven’t yet); in this post, I will expand on my original answer.

Assuming anon meant, “Have there been anything studies assessing whether recovery is harder for individuals who do not fit the normative body type (because of fat phobia/fat shaming/diet culture)?” Then, my answer is: Not really, or at least I couldn’t find anything evaluating this question directly.

I was only able to find a few studies commenting on the history of overweight or obesity as a predictor of recovery/treatment … Continue reading →

In Defense of Eating Junk Food in Eating Disorder Treatment

Should eating disorder patients be introduced to “junk food” or “hyper-palatable” foods during treatment? A few days ago, I stumbled across a blog post where Dr. Julie O’Toole, Founder and Director of the Kartini Clinic for Disordered Eating, argues against introducing “junk food” during ED treatment. The crux of the argument is that “hyperpalatable foods”—e.g., chips and Cheetos—are not real food and should never be forced or encouraged for anyone, regardless of the presence of an eating disorder:

A lot of ink has been spilled on teaching Americans in general and children in particular to make good food choices. Just because you have anorexia nervosa as a child, and desperately need to gain and maintain adequate weight, does not mean that you will be immune from the health effects of bad eating as you get older. This is true whether or not you get fat later on. You can be

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The Sobering Reality (and the Silver Lining) of Treating Anorexia Nervosa in Adults: A Randomised Controlled Trial

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 … Continue reading →

Clinical Utility of Weight Suppression in Bulimia Nervosa Treatment – Part II

In this post I will continue my discussion on weight suppression in bulimia nervosa (click here to read Part I). Just in case you happen to be reading the posts out of sequence, I will summarize the main points of that entry:

  1. Weight suppression is the difference between one’s current body weight and highest adult body weight.
  2. It has been found that individuals with BN are on average well below their highest historical weights (i.e. they are weight suppressed).
  3. Many studies have consistently found positive associations between WS and the onset and maintenance of BN symptoms.


Because most individuals with BN have undergone significant weight loss, this makes them susceptible to weight regain — much like obese individuals usually regain the weight they have lost. Indeed, evidence suggests that weight suppression predicts weight gain in individuals with … Continue reading →

Factors Associated with Recovery from Anorexia Nervosa

Why do some people recover anorexia nervosa relatively quickly while others seem to struggle for years or decades? Does it depend on the person’s desire to get better? Their willpower? How much they are willing to fight? Is it just that some try harder than others? Some might say yes, but most will correctly realize that the picture is much, much more complex.

We can spend hours talking about barriers to treatment, but in this post I want to talk about something slightly different, something perhaps that is perhaps less “obvious.”

Suppose a group of girls–all roughly the same age, same illness duration, same socioeconomic background and race–enter the same treatment facility. What determines why some will do well in treatment and continue to do well after discharge, whereas others will relapse immediately after discharge, and yet others won’t respond to treatment at all? We know that catching eating … Continue reading →

Demystifying the Genetics of Eating Disorders – Part II

In my last post I talked about some methods that scientists use to study the genetics of eating disorders. I focused on a subfield of genetics called behavioural genetics (which you can think of as a field that attempts to understand, in part, the interplay of genetics and environment in behaviour). In this post I’ll shift gears and focus on molecular genetics. I’ll be working of the same review paper by Drs. Zerwas and Bulik (2011). Molecular geneticists study the structure and function of genes on a molecular level. For example, they try to understand how different mutations or alterations in the genetic code can affect protein function and lead to disease states.


Genetic association studies are hypothesis driven. This means that researchers make a list of genes that are known to be involved in biological mechanisms or behaviours that are affected in eating disorders, such … Continue reading →

Demystifying the Genetics of Eating Disorders – Part I

Today I thought I’d take the time to do an overview of what researchers know about the genetics of eating disorders and try to clear up some common misconceptions. The bulk of the content in this blog post comes from a very nice review paper published in 2011 by Drs. Stephanie Zerwas and Cynthia Bulik on the genetics and epigenetics of eating disorders. In an effort to keep blog posts short, this will be a multi-part mini-series.

When it comes to the genetics of eating disorders, there are two main questions that research ask: What is the relative contribution of genetic factors to eating disorder behaviours? And what are those genetic factors? I’ll talk about research attempting to answer the first question in this post and the second question in my next post.

In order to understand the role that genetics plays in influencing eating disorder behaviours, researchers use family, … Continue reading →

Shared Genetics Between Disordered Eating and Periods (Menses)

Puberty at an early age increases the risk for disordered eating behaviours such as bingeing and purging (Jacobi et al., 2004; Kaltiala-Heino et al., 2001). What’s more, the hormone estradiol moderates the risk of disordered eating behaviours. More precisely, in a group of twins with low estradiol levels, differences in disordered eating are likely due to environmental factors (such as family, school, friends), but in a group of twins with high estradiol levels, the differences in disordered eating are more likely due to genetic factors. (I blogged about it here.)

Essentially, estradiol partially moderates the extent to which genes affect disordered eating.

This is interesting because the estrogen system has a role in regulating body weight and food intake, influences eating behaviours during the menstrual cycle, and obviously plays an important role during puberty. Moreover, one study showed that estrogen receptor genes (proteins that bind estrogen) are … Continue reading →

Excessive Exercise in Eating Disorders

Excessive exercise (EE) is common among eating disorder patients. Indeed, in the study I’ll write about today, 39% of patients engaged in EE. Previous studies have tried to find psychopathological and personality correlates of EE but the results have been inconsistent. Some studies have suggested that impulsivity and addictiveness are highly correlated with EE whereas others found that anxious and depressive traits were more closely associated.

In a retrospective case series study involving outpatients with AN and BN, Penas-Lledo et al. found higher levels of anxiety and depression… among those who were identified as exercising excessively. The authors claimed that exercise might serve to reduce anxiety and stress in individuals with AN. In a similar study with adolescent inpatients with AN, Holtkamp et al. found that anxiety significantly predicted variance in exercise levels. These investigators proposed that anxiety symptoms in combination with food restriction contributed to increased levels

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