Ever wondered how someone with anorexia can overcome the urge to eat? Eating disorder expert, Dr Guido Frank, ** has been investigating this very issue. According to a recent study led by him, people with eating disorders are able to avoid food because they have trained their brain to override its own appetite signals. The brain activity of people with eating disorders is altered with regard to taste-reward and appetite stimulation, in other words, the motivation to eat.
The study suggests that this could happen when people suffering from anorexia or bulimia develop a fear of eating sweet things, (which humans are programmed from birth to prefer), in their efforts to reduce and control their weight. This fear could eventually affect the pathways in the brain, specifically the taste-reward mechanisms, thus reducing the influence of the hypothalamus, which is responsible for motivating people to eat. Mind over matter, it seems.
Whilst this doesn’t quite explain how people with eating disorders overcome hunger and the urge to eat in the first place, to get to that point, it does go some way to explaining the self perpetuating nature of anorexia and the difficulties sufferers have in resuming ‘normal’ eating.
My own experience was that I was often hungry but could never acknowledge it. To do so, even to myself, would have been a sign of weakness. It was even more of an issue to actually enjoy food, or admit to enjoying it. So, I supposed I did train my brain to ignore normal signals. Weight was regained during my recovery by ‘prescription’ – rigidly following a diet plan, and I would say that I wasn’t able to respond to feelings of hunger for many years. Even now, almost 20 years later, I have a difficult relationship with hunger signals.
I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on this.
** Guido Frank, MD, lead author of the study and associate professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.