Science of Eating Disorders

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Dedicated to making eating disorder research more accessible to the public, Science of Eating Disorders summarizes and reviews recent findings in peer-reviewed research on the genetics, neurobiology and psychiatry of eating disorders.

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  • June 26, 2014
  • 07:32 PM

The Dollars and Cents of Eating Disorders

by Andrea in Science of Eating Disorders

I must admit that I cringe slightly every time I try to think about healthcare from an economics perspective. To me, this comes a little close to putting a dollar value on human beings, which feels uncomfortably post-humanistic to me. Nonetheless, there is no ignoring the ways in which economic concerns factor into policy decisions that drive our human services, including health care.
There are also a number of pragmatic reasons for thinking about the costs associated with illnesses; talki........ Read more »

Crow S. (2014) The economics of eating disorder treatment. Current psychiatry reports, 16(7), 454. PMID: 24817201  

  • June 21, 2014
  • 12:20 PM

Not Just for Kids: Disordered Eating and Body Dissatisfaction in Midlife

by Andrea in Science of Eating Disorders

When I tell people I research eating disorders I generally get one of three reactions:

They ask me how I got into this research
They tell me a story about themselves or a friend/family member suffering from an eating disorder
They share some knowledge they’ve gleaned at some point about what it looks like to have an eating disorder (often, “aren’t eating disorders most common in teenagers?”)

Those are without question the most common responses I get, ignoring the really horrible ........ Read more »

  • June 11, 2014
  • 07:56 PM

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

by Andrea in Science of Eating Disorders

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 l........ Read more »

Goodier GH, McCormack J, Egan SJ, Watson HJ, Hoiles KJ, Todd G, & Treasure JL. (2014) Parent skills training treatment for parents of children and adolescents with eating disorders: a qualitative study. The International journal of eating disorders, 47(4), 368-75. PMID: 24843891  

  • June 4, 2014
  • 04:18 PM

Walking a Mile in Your Shoes: Treating Eating Disorders with a Personal History of Eating Problems

by Andrea in Science of Eating Disorders

A big topic at ICED, and one that seems to continually resurface, is treatment professionals in recovery. One the one hand, many see healthcare professionals with a history of eating disorders as possessing a kind of empathy that may be inaccessible to those who have not “been there.” On the other, some argue that this history complicates the patient-professional relationship in potentially detrimental ways.
You’ll find proponents of both sides of this debate from both professional a........ Read more »

  • May 24, 2014
  • 04:49 PM

Gendering the Pro-Anorexia Paradox: Men in Pro-Ana Spaces

by Andrea in Science of Eating Disorders

When someone says “pro-ana,” what comes to mind? Likely, given the strong reactions pro-anorexia websites provoke, you may be able to conjure up an image of what would take place in such a forum. Thoughts of “thinspiration,” emaciated and waif-like images, and starving tips likely spring to mind, alongside considerations of the dangers of a community that would encourage behaviors that can be very harmful to health.
I’d venture to say that it is unlikely that you have pictured a ........ Read more »

  • May 7, 2014
  • 11:39 PM

Hypermetabolism in Anorexia Nervosa

by Tetyana in Science of Eating Disorders

Weight restoration is a crucial component of anorexia nervosa treatment. It is a challenging process for a multitude of reasons. Adding to the complexity and the challenge is the fact that during weight restoration, individuals with anorexia nervosa tend to require increasingly more calories to maintain the same rate of weight gain.
That is, individuals need to continually increase their caloric intake, in steps, sometimes upwards of 100 calories (technically, kilocalories) per kilogram pe........ Read more »

  • April 30, 2014
  • 09:20 PM

Political Bodies: What is the Impact of National or Regional-Level Eating Disorder Prevention?

by Andrea in Science of Eating Disorders

When it comes to prevention, I’ve noticed a strong interest in working toward large-scale prevention initiatives. I’ve written about prevention before, noting the potential for unintended effects, as well as schoolgirls’ reactions to and acceptance of prevention interventions (here). But what about the larger scale efforts to prevent body image concerns and eating disorders?
Countries from the US to Australia to Israel have taken strides to implement initiatives aimed at improvi........ Read more »

  • April 22, 2014
  • 02:56 PM

Polar Opposites? The Social Construction of Bulimia and Anorexia Nervosa

by Andrea in Science of Eating Disorders

Some might argue that bulimia nervosa is more “hidden” than anorexia nervosa — it is not always obvious that someone is suffering from bulimia (though, I would argue, it is not always obvious that someone is suffering from any eating disorder). Even when it is “discovered,” BN is often placed in opposition with AN — as if the two were polar opposites.
Indeed, attempts to define a phenotype (a set of observable traits or characteristics) for AN and BN tend to oppose the ........ Read more »

  • April 19, 2014
  • 12:46 AM

Energy Expenditure (Calories Burned) in Anorexia Nervosa Patients

by Tetyana in Science of Eating Disorders

How many calories do patients with anorexia nervosa need to eat to gain a kilo (2.2 lbs)? It seems like a simple question and one that we should have figured out a long time ago, given the importance (err, necessity) of refeeding and weight restoration in recovery from anorexia nervosa.
Unfortunately, research in this area has often led to contradictory results (see Salisbury et al., 1995 and de Zwaan et al., 2002 for reviews). Fortunately, a paper by Stephan Zipfel and colleagues (2013,........ Read more »

Zipfel S, Mack I, Baur LA, Hebebrand J, Touyz S, Herzog W, Abraham S, Davies PS, & Russell J. (2013) Impact of exercise on energy metabolism in anorexia nervosa. Journal of Eating Disorders, 1(1), 37. PMID: 24499685  

  • April 14, 2014
  • 10:51 PM

Disordered Eating and Athletic Performance: Where’s the Line?

by Emma in Science of Eating Disorders

If a person severely restricts his diet and exercises for hours each day, he has an eating disorder. If another does exactly the same but it is because she wants to make the lightweight rowing team (which has an upper weight limit), she’s a committed athlete. When the two overlap, and an athlete presents with eating disorder symptoms, how do we distinguish between the demands of the sport and the illness?
I’ve been interested in the distinctions we make between disordered and n........ Read more »

  • March 23, 2014
  • 09:07 AM

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

by Andrea in Science of Eating Disorders

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 ........ Read more »

Koven, N.S., & Senbonmatsu, R. (2013) A neuropsychological evaluation of orthorexia nervosa. Open Journal of Psychiatry, 214-222. info:/10.4236/ojpsych.2013.32019

  • March 9, 2014
  • 12:49 PM

Matters of Appearance: Eating Disorder Patients’ Interpretations of Therapists’ Bodies

by Andrea in Science of Eating Disorders

Therapeutic alliance is often highlighted in studies looking at treatment effectiveness, both in and beyond the realm of eating disorder therapy. Evidently, there are a number of factors that can impact how well we get along with our therapists, ranging from disagreements with the course of treatment or type of therapy to a simple, unnamable dislike for the person. But what about their appearance? What kind of impact could a therapist’s body size have on the therapy relationship?
Rance, ........ Read more »

  • March 5, 2014
  • 11:25 PM

Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Useful, Useless, or Worse?

by Tetyana in Science of Eating Disorders

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week came and went (in the US, anyway). Posters were shared, liked, and tweeted. Pretty (but often misguided) infographics made the rounds on the internet. Local ED groups visited schools and college campuses to educate students about eating disorders. To, you know, increase awareness. 
The thing is, awareness is not always a good thing. For one, as Carrie over at ED Bites mentioned, there’s a whole lot of misinformation masquerading as fact. An........ Read more »

  • March 1, 2014
  • 07:25 PM

Impossible Binaries? Eating Disorders Among Trans Individuals

by Andrea in Science of Eating Disorders

Recently I was doing some research for an upcoming (and very exciting)  endeavour that involves exploring eating disorders among LGBTQ individuals. As one does, I set about scouring the research literature in this area in the hopes of stumbling across some prior articles on which to hang my proverbial research hat.
As I sifted through the databases, however, my searches kept coming up short. After sending out a call to a list-serv enquiring about the state of the field in this area, I rec........ Read more »

  • February 24, 2014
  • 01:17 PM

In a Relationship and It’s Complicated: Eating Disorders in Intimate Relationships

by Andrea in Science of Eating Disorders

What would you do if your partner started restricting caloric intake or bingeing and purging? Would you know how to approach your partner, how to offer support? And what about your own mental health?
Coping with an eating disorder in the context of any relationship can be tricky. There is a growing body of literature that addresses ways to bolster support for caregivers. While this is encouraging, a number of these studies explore the experiences of “caregivers” as a generic category e........ Read more »

Dick, C.H., Renes, S.L., Moroti, A., & Strange, A.T. (2013) Understanding and Assisting Couples Affected by an Eating Disorder. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 43(3), 232-244. info:/10.1080/01926187.2012.677728

  • February 19, 2014
  • 10:43 PM

Eating Disorders and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

by Tetyana in Science of Eating Disorders

Eating disorder patients commonly complain of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms including bloating, abdominal pain, and constipation. This is, of course, not surprising. After all, disordered eating behaviours such as self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, and restriction are bound to have negative effects on the digestive system.
But just how common are GI complaints and functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) like irritable bowel syndrome among ED patients? And is there more to the r........ Read more »

  • February 15, 2014
  • 02:28 PM

Models of Anorexia Nervosa: A Few Insights from Our Animal Cousins

by Liz in Science of Eating Disorders

In 1967, Routtenberg and Kuznesof reported a very peculiar phenomenon in rats:
They discovered that when rats were on a restricted feeding schedule (1 hour per day in their experiment) and had free access to a running wheel, their food intake was significantly lower than in control rats, which were on the same feeding schedule but without access to a running wheel. This discrepancy between increased running activity and decreased food intake caused substantial body weight loss, and if rats........ Read more »

  • February 8, 2014
  • 10:11 PM

Nothing to SCOFF at: Screening for Eating Disorders in the Emergency Room

by Andrea in Science of Eating Disorders

As many who have suffered from eating disorders know, these illnesses can often go unnoticed for years. Family members and friends might not be the only ones who don’t catch the signs and symptoms of EDs; doctors, too, may not identify the presence of an eating disorder. Whether or not sufferers desire to get help, the symptoms associated with eating disorders often lead many to present at doctors’ offices and emergency departments, suffering from “mysterious ailments.”
In a study........ Read more »

Dooley-Hash, S., Lipson, S.K., Walton, M.A., & Cunningham, R.M. (2013) Increased emergency department use by adolescents and young adults with eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 308-315. info:/10.1002/eat.22070

  • February 4, 2014
  • 09:48 PM

Setting a Target Weight: An Arbitrary Exercise?

by Tetyana in Science of Eating Disorders

Achieving a healthy weight is a major goal of anorexia nervosa treatment. Indeed, a healthy weight is often seen as a prerequisite for psychological recovery. The fact that weight restoration is a crucial component of recovery is uncontroversial, the problem arises when it comes to determining what constitutes a healthy weight. How are ideal, optimal, or goal weights set? And who gets to decide?
Despite its recognized importance, there’s surprisingly little consensus on how target w........ Read more »

  • January 31, 2014
  • 12:04 AM

You Sure You Want to Eat That? Perceived Consequences of Eating & Its Relation to Recovery

by Jackie in Science of Eating Disorders

I recently had a total Aha! moment (or a why-didn’t-I-ever-think-of-it moment) when I had chanced upon a recently published article titled “Eating Expectancies in Relation to Eating Disorder Recovery” by Fitzsimmons-Craft and colleagues. The title caught my attention because I had never come across any research tying eating expectancies to eating disorders, though I was familiar with the concept from the health psychology and obesity literature. Eating, as a ........ Read more »

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