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

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What’s Working? Comparing Partial Hospitalization and Residential Treatment for Eating Disorders

I can’t help but think I often write more about the issues surrounding the general lack of treatment options for eating disorders that I sometimes neglect to comment on what is available. A part of this is that I would refer to myself as somewhat of a treatment modality atheist – I have the luxury of being someone who does eating disorder research but is not involved in directly treating those with eating disorders, and so I don’t need to specialize in one type of treatment. My bottom line tends to be that no one-size-fits-all, and that the type of treatment that works for someone will depend on so many factors (like their gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, body size, ability, even their politics to a certain extent) that I wouldn’t want to proclaim one type of treatment as king.

In spite of this treatment modality atheism (or perhaps because of … Continue reading →

Thinking Critically to Move Forward: Reflections on the International Conference on Eating Disorders 2016

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I was at the International Conference on Eating Disorders (ICED), the major yearly conference put on by the Academy for Eating Disorders, over the past few days. As I write this post, I am sitting in the San Francisco Airport trying to synthesize my experiences into what may or may not turn into an epic blog post.

Despite my extreme extroversion on the Internet, I actually live in a funny place where I’m continually balancing my innate criticality and training as critical health psychology graduate student with the desire for folks to like me. I see this playing out at conferences like ICED, where people’s opinions of me and my fitness to do this work matter. I am unable to sit in a session and not voice my perspectives on Twitter, but I’m also continually filtering … Continue reading →

Many Types of Expertise: Recovered Therapists Reflecting on Recovery

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of noise in the social media sphere about whether or not those who have recovered from eating disorders should be treating eating disorders. Some have come out on the side of saying definitely not, listing reasons like the potential for bias, countertransference (the therapist making assumptions about clients’ emotions/experiences) or triggering. Others suggest that therapists who have “been there” can empathize with patients in a way that those who have not struggled with food cannot approximate.

Tetyana blogged about the lifetime prevalence of eating disorder professionals in recovery in 2013; she wrote about a 2002 study that revealed that around 33% of women and 2% of men treating eating disorders had a history of an eating disorder themselves. I have also written on the subject before (here); I focused on a 2013 study looking at experiences that recovered clinicians held in … Continue reading →

What Are You Re-covering? Critical Conversations About Eating Disorder Recovery

As usually happens, when I spill my brain out onto Twitter I end up having some minor (or, let’s face it, major) discussions and disagreements with other Twitterites. It’s both a wonderful and a stressful experience, in part because one of the hazards of the medium is its rapid-fire and protracted style. Inevitably, discussions lose their nuance and some of what I am advocating for gets lost in the ether.

The latest discussion centered around recovery and how it is portrayed in the literature. I’ve been working on a meta-analysis of recovery studies, and commented that I was tired of the way that researchers tend to write about recovery as “becoming whole” or finding oneself. Because I am a critical researcher and a generally squeaky wheel, and based on some research I’ve done, I question whether this framing is helpful for all of those who have recovered/are in recovery/want to … Continue reading →

The Stigma is Real: Self-Blame and Explanations for Eating Disorders

Stigma is a real thing. There you go, the most profound statement I’ve ever written. In all seriousness though, there’s a big stigma problem around eating disorders, and not all of it is imposed from the outside. Many people with eating disorders also self-stigmatize, feeling responsible for their disorder (Holliday, Wall, Treasure & Weinman, 2005 wrote more about this). Other stigma is externally imposed; for instance, the widely held (and erroneous) belief that eating disorders are only something vain young girls get or that they are a choice.

Stigma around eating disorders sometimes differs betweens diagnoses, and especially between eating disorders and other mental illnesses – for instance, Roehrig and McLean (2010) found that eating disorders (both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa) were more stigmatized than depression, and that eating disorder stigma uniquely (and horribly) included a certain degree of envy. The stigma associated with AN is … Continue reading →

Eating Disorders: What’s Feminism Got to Do With It?

There has been a lot of talk in the Twittersphere lately about feminism and eating disorders. Because I live and breathe my feminism and my eating disorder research and activism, I’ve been struggling to reconcile my commitment to making sure people feel heard and my commitment to clarifying what I feel are misconceptions about the links between feminism and eating disorders.

Certainly, it can’t be denied that some have adopted the name “feminism” and supported some decidedly shady claims or research. Then again, people of all stripes have done shady research with questionable motives and outcomes. Science and research are never neutral. Everything from what is seen as being “important enough” to study to how results are interpreted and used takes place in a socio-political context. Try as we might, we can’t fully remove ourselves from our research, whether we research micro-RNA or eating disorders (or both? It’s probably possible … Continue reading →

Poverty and Eating Disorders in Hong Kong

Eating disorders are typically seen as an illness of the middle class, with most patients coming from that socioeconomic group. However, the invisibility of poorer patients within eating disorder research in part reflects the barriers to treatment that they face, including both cost and lower levels of awareness. This paper, written by a Hong Kong social work professor, Joyce Ma, focuses less on the process of eating disorder recovery, highlighting instead the context of treatment. She discusses how family dynamics and socioeconomic status come into play in her encounters with 7 Hong Kong teenagers from low-income families.

While her sample size is very small, it reveals a more diverse — and less body image-focused –disease pathway than most American studies, with Ma breaking down the precipitating factors as follows (patient numbers in brackets):

  • Constipation (1)
  • Desire to be thin (3, 7)
  • Relationship issues (6)
  • Parental conflicts (5)
  • Poverty (2,
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Culture and Eating Disorders: Treatment Outcomes in Singapore and Hong Kong

In this last post about eating disorders in Singapore, I’ll write about the one Singapore-based retrospective outcome study in relation to a similar retrospective study conducted in Hong Kong.

In the Singapore study, researchers reviewed the charts of 94 patients diagnosed with anorexia nervosa from 1992 to 2004 at the National University Hospital, looking back from the time of the study. They didn’t contact any of the subjects for follow-up. 49 were first seen as inpatients, 34 as outpatients, and 11 were seen as outpatients but later admitted. The hospital doesn’t have a specialized ED service, so the authors relied on dietetic notes that unfortunately don’t provide a full picture of the patients’ eating disordered behaviors and cognitions.

The authors wrote about patient ‘improvement’ (not recovery!) as making a weight gain of at least 0.5 kg, or about 1 pound. 83% of their patients attended follow up appointments, which lasted … Continue reading →

Making Connections: Peer Support and Eating Disorder Recovery

I feel like a broken record when I say that we continue to lack an evidence base for most “alternative” forms of support for eating disorders. As I’ve noted in prior posts, just because something is not evidence based does not mean it does not work for anyone; often, an evidence base is established when researchers can secure enough funding to run a randomized-controlled trial (RCT) that would act as evidence.

Even when an RCT has been run, it is hard to say that one form of treatment is best for all. People with eating disorders, like people in general, respond to different things, based on personal preference, history, culture, age, gender, and so many other factors. It feels a bit simplistic to write that, but I sometimes think we need a reminder of that fact!

Ultimately, and unsatisfyingly, it can be hard to predict what will work best … Continue reading →