Our body and brain work together like a well-oiled machine. To be as strong and effective as possible, both mind and body need to receive the best fuel we can give it. This is what makes an eating disorder so serious! It is two-pronged, causing mental and physical anguish. Today we are going to break down eating disorders!
An eating disorder can take shape in several different forms:
- Anorexia Nervosa: a condition in which an individual perceives themself as chronically overweight (even though they are often underweight) and feels compelled to restrict calorie intake and engage in excessive exercise.
- Bulimia Nervosa: a condition marked by a cycle of binge-eating episodes followed by purging (generally by inducing vomiting or taking laxatives).
- Binge-Eating Disorder: a condition in which an individual regularly eats excessive amounts, experiencing a lack of control. These binges are often accompanied by shame, remorse, and emotional distress. (NIMH, 2021; Mayo Clinic, 2018).
Each of these disorders is mentally and physically taxing, resulting in under/overnutrition and severe emotional anguish. In an effort to gain a better understanding of the roles the brain plays in an eating disorder, neuroscientists have been using brain imaging techniques. Individuals with anorexia nervosa showed abnormalities in the brain reward pathways and altered levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter implicated in reward and behavior reinforcement.
Individuals with bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder showed increased activation of emotional pathways when individuals were shown plates of food, and similarly to individuals with anorexia nervosa, they show altered reward pathways (Steinglass, Berner, & Attia, 2019; Donnelly et al., 2018). That said, more research must be conducted to better understand the neurological underpinnings of eating disorders. I would also like to note that all of the above findings are CORRELATIONS, meaning that eating disorders are related to these brain changes, but we do not know if there are any causative effects.
Eating disorders can severely negatively impact quality of life. There are several treatments we will go over in the next article, but we want readers to know that there are many outlets for support (see below). Working together we can take meaningful steps to a happier, healthier relationship with food!