Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Doctors do know that eating disorders, which are involuntary and genetic mental diseases, like depression, schizophrenia, or OCD, follow a pattern. Patients with a certain character trait — “high harm avoidance,” in medical-speak — are more easily upset by puberty or big life events. To get control, they diet. Sounds innocent: Who hasn’t wanted to slim down before a new job or a wedding? But in certain people, weight loss exposes a genetic vulnerability to an eating disorder.

What makes the disorders so hard to treat is their way of turning the body’s normal regulatory mechanisms against themselves. Malnutrition slows the brain’s hormone production, “numbing” intense emotions. So as anorexic patients starve, they feel calmer. Hunger pangs are now a reassurance they won’t get fat. In another twist, the more weight they lose, the fatter they see themselves. It’s not a problem with their vision. The more they starve, the harder it is to keep going — the body wants to eat. So the mind produces motivation in the form of an obese reflection rippling with rolls of fat. The delusion is a rationale for continuing to starve, created by brain chemistry doctors don’t understand.
Starvation Nation: Inside a Groundbreaking Eating Disorder Facility
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