An anorexic brain

Now that we can actually see the brain working by using "functional MRI," researchers have watched the way people without an ED history compare to weight- restored people's brains in response to positive and negative risk and results.

Even a year after weight restoration, the test subjects' brains didn't see much difference between positive and negative reward.

They were, essentially, stumbling blind, unable to learn from experience. That's no fun. No happy face for doing well, no warning bell to alert of danger.

Positive and negative felt the same. Imagine responding the same to a slap as a hug. Imagine how chaotic and annoying it would be if things seemed to go right or wrong around you without rhyme or reason. You get sicker and people get more frustrated with you, but it doesn't matter what you do. You would feel - does this sound familiar? - as if you "have no control."

What does this mean for caregivers? Patience. Love. The long view. And protect our loved ones from negative consequences of the ED until the switch gets fixed or there is a work-around in place.

p.s. Got to love this quote on the BBC news: "This shows how the brain might be important in eating disorders."


  1. It seems highly like this is a strong plus for the neurobiological theory of causation for anorexia.

  2. In other words--nana nana boo boo, we told you so.

    Feeling very mature today. :-) Guess my EE is high!

  3. Hmmm - I didn't read the article as saying "positive and negative feel the same". I read it as the recovered AN patients did not experience immediate reward/loss, mostly because they had constant levels of anxiety over their performance. I would think the problem isn't so much that they experience no change in feelings, as that their over-riding anxieities prevent them from processing immediate rewards. Maybe that's semantic, but it seems to me that helping your recover(ed/ing) kid let go of anxieties and appreciate current pleasures is a different kind of problem from teaching them to distinguish positive from negative.

    Anyway, maybe I read it that way b/c that fits my d to a Tee - even before AN she would worry more about possible negative reactions from others to her choices, than she would about whether her choices were what *she* really wanted. Even something as simple as choosing what flavor ice-cream required a survey of what everyone else was getting, lots of musing over what if she didn't like the flavor (but you couldn't persuade her to ask for a sample!), worry about whether "it would be ok to order X?" etc. If we asked her "What do you feel like having?", it really seemed as if she couldn't answer that. Finally making a choice never seemed to alleviate the anxiety - so much to mull over what she might have gotten, or how she could get a better flavor next time. AN has made this infinitely worse now, but at least we now have some more information about it!

  4. I think this article is really important based on the last statement in the piece, "This demonstrates how complex eating disorders are and underlines that they should be treated as a serious mental illness and not a silly diet gone wrong." I think that there is a major social and legislative change that needs to occur around recognizing eating disorders as a disease and not just some self-involved choice.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts