For the Health of It: Disentangling “Healthy Eating” and “Orthorexia”

When is “healthy eating” not so healthy? The line between “normal” and “pathological” eating behaviours is blurry, to say the least. For some time, researchers have been attempting to define a “new” category of eating disorders: orthorexia. This category would capture “obsessions” with “healthy eating” that are (presumably) not already captured in current diagnostic criteria for eating disorders.

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you might already know how I feel about the liberal sprinkling of the suffix “orexia” onto behaviours related to food, exercise and body image (see, for example, my post on “drunkorexia”). The problematics of language use and eating disorders are numerous; we tend to use diagnoses as currency in discussing eating disorders, often glossing over the intricacies of behaviours with food and exercise by lumping them into (continually shifting) diagnostic criteria.

Of course, labeling is necessary to a certain extent. Diagnoses can help … Continue reading →

Living in a Large City: A Risk Factor for Bulimia Nervosa?

The link between urban living and mental disorders such as schizophrenia and depression has been known for quite some time (Sundquist et al., 2004). In one study, Sundquist et al found that individuals living in a densely populated area had a 68-77% higher risk of developing psychosis and 12-22% higher risk of developing depression.

The question then arises, do eating disorders follow a similar pattern? And if yes, what are some possible explanations? Certainly we know that both genetic and environmental factors are involved in the development of eating disorders, but what specific factors and to what extent remains unclear.

In this study, Gabrielle E. van Son and colleagues set out to explore whether increasing urbanization was an environmental risk factor for the development of eating disorders.

In order to answer this question, the researchers had a network general practitioners (GPs) record each newly diagnosed case of anorexia … 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 →