Why I No Longer Support Studying the Genetics of Eating Disorders – Part I

I no longer support genetics research into eating disorders. Okay, that’s not quite right: I no longer support genetics research into eating disorders under the pretense that it will improve treatment outcomes or prevent eating disorders. I just don’t believe it. Moreover, I think emphasizing the need for a genetic understanding of eating disorders shifts focus away from research and, more importantly, from actions, that can yield much greater benefits much quicker.

It wasn’t always like this. In my third (junior) year of university, I wrote a mini-review on the genetic and neurobiological etiology (cause) of anorexia nervosa. In it, I argued that “in order to improve recovery outcomes, more specific treatments based on genetic and neurobiological evidence need to be developed.” I concluded by writing,

However, with the advent of large-scale genetic databases and worldwide collaboration among researchers resulting in larger sample sizes, the future of AN research

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 →

The Genetics of Anorexia Nervosa

Is it the culture of thinness, obsession with dieting or just bad mothering? When it comes to determining the causes of anorexia nervosa, the answer appears to be none of the above. Increasingly, the evidence is pointing to genetics playing an important role in predisposing individuals to anorexia nervosa. Among clinicians and researchers, the notion that genetic factors are important in the development of anorexia nervosa seems uncontested. In this short review, Dr. Cynthia Bulik and colleagues summarize some of the findings in the genetics of anorexia nervosa.

Currently (DSM-IV), to be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, a patient must show:

  • An inability to maintain normal weight (<85% of what is expected)
  • Intense fear of weight gain and/or becoming fat, though underweight
  • Obsession with body weight and shape, giving it undue importance in evaluating self-esteem/self-worth
  • Amenorrhea (missing 3 or more consecutive periods)
  • There are two AN-subtypes: restricting
Continue reading →