What is New Research on Eating Disorders Finding?

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Eating disorders include extreme attitudes, behaviors, and emotions surrounding food. There are many common food disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and more – all of which come with their own set of stigmas. For example, many people believe that anorexia happens with celebrities because of the cultural stigma to be “thin” and “beautiful”. However, new research suggests that this popular viewpoint is incorrect – that there is much more than meets the eye on this topic. If you suffer from an eating disorder, knowing that it’s not just cultural stigma and more about your body and brain will hopefully bring comfort.

In an article discussed by Kirsten Weir of the American Psychological Association (APA), binge eating disorder is explained as being associated with obesity. When someone suffers from this, they eat substantial amounts of food and eat even when they are not hungry, often feeling guilty and ashamed afterwards. Anorexia is defined by the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) as not consuming an adequate amount of food, leading to unhealthy weight. Bulimia is characterized as eating enormous amounts of food and then taking substantive efforts to avoid weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting. While these are the most common, all forms of eating disorders take a maladaptive approach to food.

Many people find eating to be a pleasurable activity. However, The International Journal of Eating Disorders found that in people who suffered from anorexia, the release of dopamine (the reward center in the brain) in the dorsal striatum triggers anxiety rather than feelings of pleasure. Stigma also surrounds those who suffer from eating disorders as having strong willpower – but a Nature Neuroscience study suggests that it’s not willpower, it’s out of habit. In 2016, Dr. Kerr at the Laureat Institute for Brain Research scanned the brains of healthy women and women who had been diagnosed with an eating disorder, and found that those with an eating disorder had abnormal insula activity – what researchers later believed to affect their anxious temperament.

Research is still be conducted to look further into brain activity to help us better understand the cause of eating disorders. However, scientists are getting a new perspective that it’s not just cultural stigma – they believe that part of the brain is likely to be different in those who suffer from an eating disorder than those who do not. By learning more about the research conducted in this area, we can correct stigmas around eating disorders and understand the neurobiological aspect of these disorders.


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