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1 year ago
Why Is Anorexia So Hard to Treat?

Anorexia is notoriously difficult to treat and a new study may have discovered why. Research published in the journal Nature Neuroscience found that the severe dieting done by anorexics may be a strongly formed habit, not a result of extreme will power as previously thought.

Here’s why that’s so concerning: Habits are regulated by deeply ingrained brain processes, which are difficult to change.

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The study followed the eating habits of 21 women with anorexia and 21 healthy people, and conducted brain scans while the women decided which foods to eat. Women who were anorexic were more likely to choose low-fat, low calorie foods. They were also less likely to rate high-fat, high-calorie foods as “tasty.”

The brain scans showed activation in the brain’s reward center for both groups of women when they made their choices. But anorexic women had more activation in the dorsal striatum, the area of the brain that’s linked with habitual behavior.

Researchers say that indicates that the anorexic women made food choices out of habit and learned behavior, instead of deciding which foods they wanted to eat in the moment, as most people do.

This may help explain why some anorexic women can get to the point where their bodies are shutting down but still aren’t able to consume a normal diet.

RELATED: Can You Ever Fully Recover from an Eating Disorder?

Up to four percent of women in the U.S. will suffer from anorexia in their lifetime, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. And it can be deadly: The mortality rate for anorexia is 12 times higher than the rate for all causes of death for women aged 15 to 24, the organization reports.

Up for four percent of women in the U.S. will suffer from anorexia in their lifetime.

Unfortunately, many women treated for anorexia also relapse. Research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that less than half of patients actually recover from the disease.

Scientists didn’t offer a solution to the problem in their work, but hopefully their findings will help doctors better treat this destructive disease in the future.

If you or someone you know may be suffering from anorexia, please visit the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders for more information on how to get help.

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