We’re In This Together: Collaborative Care for Eating Disorders

This week I had the pleasure of attending a workshop with Janet Treasure on collaborative care in eating disorders. Treasure focused her workshop on supporting caregivers of people with eating disorders, offering practical skills for carers and clinicians alike to improve interactions with those with eating disorders. Though I am neither a carer nor a clinicians, I got a lot out of the workshop, and it reminded me of a few of Treasure’s articles I’ve read over the years, and how much I appreciate her strong focus on working collaboratively with patients and families to facilitate recovery.

I especially appreciated how she aims to integrate those with lived experience (of either having an eating disorder or caring for someone with an eating disorder) in research and treatment design. Some of her journal articles, including this article on the potential for harm in existing treatment models, even include former patients as … Continue reading →

Fat Talk Free Zone: What is the Impact of Fat Talk on Body Dissatisfaction?

There has been a veritable explosion of “anti-fat talk” movements in the body image and eating disorder prevention realms over the past few years. Indeed, campaigns like the Tri-Delta Sorority Fat Talk Free week have become relatively well known. Events like the “Southern Smash,” where participants literally smash scales are other iterations of this social phenomenon encouraging a more positive conversation around bodies.

I am, of course, a fan of the idea that we shouldn’t put our bodies down; I’m a huge proponent of the need to avoid putting our own and others’ bodies down. I think that initiatives like Fat Talk Free week are good practice as they help move conversations in more productive directions and help to redirect our focus from bodies as our only source of value.

One of my concerns about these initiatives is that in signing up to do a Fat Talk Free … Continue reading →

Unpacking Recovery Part 3: Can Patients Imagine Recovery?

Today I have the distinct pleasure of writing about one of my favourite articles about eating disorder recovery by Malson et al. (2011) exploring how inpatients talk about eating disorder recovery. I have personally found this article to be very helpful in understanding some of the difficulties of understanding and achieving recovery in our social context.

As Malson and colleagues explain (and as we’ve established), eating disorder recovery is elusive. Often, poor prognosis is described in relation to individual factors, including:

  • Treatment resistance
  • Hostility
  • Opposition
  • Ambivalence about change
  • Ambivalence about the possibility of change

Problematically, seeing these as the primary reasons for which patients do not recover can make individuals with eating disorders themselves feel as though they are to blame for their “inability to recover,” which help approximately no one. How do patients internalize these kinds of framings, and what impact does it have on how possible … Continue reading →

Of Family Dynamics and Eating Disorders: Parents’ Experiences of Skills-Based Training

Parents of children with eating disorders face an extraordinarily difficult challenge; the work that they put into caring for their loved ones cannot be discounted. This can be especially challenging in the face of a social environment that tends toward parent-blaming for disorders. Further, the kinds of behaviors caregivers are obliged to encourage in the individual with an eating disorder (for example, eating calorically-dense foods in order to gain weight) are frowned upon, to say the least, in our “anti-obesity” oriented society.

There is a rich body of literature exploring caregiver well-being, including studies suggesting that increasing the availability of support in various forms from social to practical may help caregivers to navigate a complicated path toward supporting a loved one with an eating disorder. Researchers are asking key questions around what we can do to better support parents and other caregivers.

Along these lines, Goodier et al. (2014Continue reading →

The Impact of an Eating Disorder Prevention Program: The Girls’ Perspective

Over the years, I have read a number of articles describing eating disorder prevention programs. Unfortunately, many reveal limited efficacy, and some even highlight detrimental effects. Primary among concerns of those evaluating prevention programs is that even when effective, we often have limited data about the long-term effects of prevention programs. This lack of follow-up limits the ability to draw conclusions about these initiatives and is cause for pause for those interested in implementing strategies to prevent eating disorders.

Further, there is some debate about whether eating disorders are even really “preventable.” Given our understanding of the complex etiology of these disorders, “prevention” can be a loaded word. The nature of the proposed intervention will undoubtedly be heavily swayed toward whichever factor(s) the program’s designer feels is most important in “causing” or contributing to disordered eating (i.e., Is the program tailored toward media awareness? Nutrition? Body image?)

I … 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

Continue reading →

Think You Are Not “Sick Enough” Because You Didn’t Lose Your Period? Read This.

Anonymous asked, “I’ve never lost my period. Weight restored I am naturally thin, but even at a BMI of 15 or so I always got my period (although it wasn’t always regularly). This makes me feel like I’m not actually sick because I hear about everyone losing their period.”

eatruncats replied: “To the anon who asked about losing periods: For all the times she worries about not being sick enough because she never lost her period, there are people who lost their periods at BMIs of 18, 19, and 20 who worry about not being sick enough because they never got to a BMI of 15. If you have an eating disorder, you are “sick enough.” Period.

As it stands now, amenorrhea–or the loss of three consecutive menstrual cycles–is a diagnostic criterion for anorexia nervosa. Individuals who have not lost their periods are diagnosed with eating disorder … Continue reading →

Endophenotypes and Biomarkers in Eating Disorders: Genetic Underpinnings, Personality Traits, Vulnerabilities – Part 2

This post continues the discussion of the chapter on eating disorders by Carolina Lopez, Marion Roberts, and Janet Treasure from The Handbook of Neuropsychiatric Biomarkers, Endophenotypes and Genes (2009). Part 1 focused on neurotransmitter biomarkers, and this second part will focus on the neuropsychological biomarkers.

NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL BIOMARKERS

Attentional biases

Attentional bias is the tendency for individuals to attend to or be distracted by emotionally relevant stimuli over neutral stimuli. Attentional biases have been observed in several studies:

  • Current AN and BN individuals showed bias towards food, body-related stimuli.
  • Past AN but not past BN showed bias towards body shape concerns.
  • Both current and “long-term recovered” AN showed “abnormally higher activation in the medial prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices in response to food stimuli using fMRI [brain imaging]” (232)

These biases can be minimal but annoying: waiting in line at the pharmacy, staring into space and finding your focus … Continue reading →

Endophenotypes and Biomarkers in Eating Disorders: Genetic Underpinnings, Personality Traits, Vulnerabilities – Part 1

There have been some interesting discussions on the F.E.A.S.T. Facebook group over the past month regarding the role of genetics, personality traits, environmental factors and their role (or lack thereof) in the development of eating disorders and their prognosis. A parent group may seem like an unlikely forum for several hundred-odd comment threads on etiology; however, what we (caregivers, patients or clinicians) believe to underlie these disorders naturally informs our attitudes, decisions and choices with regards to treatment and our relationship to the disorders themselves:

Is this something they will have to manage their entire life?
Does anyone ever fully recover?
I had bulimia as a young adult and now my son has an eating disorder, too – did I pass on “bad genes”, bad habits, or is it a coincidence?
Is her rigidity and anxiety merely a side affect of starvation, or should we treat those as
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 →