And every now and then, they get it right

When I saw an article called "The Daisy Duke Diet" in my newsfeed, I elected not to read it, figuring it was the standard drivel. However, I was wrong. What was that I said about assuming making an ass out of "u" and me?

Thanks to Tiptoe, I decided to read the article and was pleasantly surprised to the point of astonishment. Not only did it thoroughly debunk the idea of models causing eating disorders, it included some of the latest research explained rather well.

If it isn’t skinny models, what’s the cause? In the last dozen years or so, scientists have linked anorexia to many different physiological conditions: high levels of estrogen in the womb; low levels of serotonin in the brain; a genetic mutation; overactivity by dopamine receptors; a general tendency toward anxiety and obsessionality; high age at menarche; elevated amounts of a mysterious peptide called CART; autism (which is underdiagnosed in girls, perhaps because it sometimes manifests itself in the form of eating disorders); premature birth or other birth complications; irregular activity in the insular cortex of the brain; post-traumatic stress disorder; an autoimmune disorder affecting the hypothalamus and pituitary gland; variations in the structure of the anterior ventral striatum (the brain region responsible for emotional responses); and even being born in June (seriously — one theory is that a winter-type disease in the mother at a certain vulnerable point during the pregnancy is responsible). Some of these causes may overlap with one another, but biomedical researchers are virtually unanimous that anorexia has physical roots, though the mechanism remains poorly understood.

Writer Fred Schwartz concludes that

Anorexia is a dreadful disease, and still poorly understood. If the growing scientific knowledge about it can be pieced together, we may eventually learn to identify, prevent, treat, and even cure it. But political activists do not help its sufferers when they oversimplify a complicated condition and blame it on their stock assortment of evil forces in American society.

Keep in mind that the National Review is a conservative magazine. I don't think big business and the beauty industry are pure innocent things being targeted by evil people trying to pin the blame for eating disorders. I do think their messages are harmful. I do think we need to do something about it.

I just don't think they cause eating disorders.

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marcella said...

I don't think they cause eating disorders either, although I sure as anything don't like them very much! As for being born in June, I though that the correlation that has been found was between eating disorders and being born in early Spring - and thus having been conceived in Summer when mothers who suffered from eating disorders themselves were most likely to be fertile. As my younger daughter would say "whatever"....

Cammy said...

Interesting article, thanks for the link. I feel like the endrophine addiction model has been what most closely fit the etiology of my ED. It is different for everyone, but I do think the roots are much more biological than many people realize. I did a paper last year on how religious fasting can trigger ED behavior, with a lot of examples of cases from centuries ago that would undoubtedly be diagnosed as anorexia today, even though some claim the disorder is a product of modern pop culture. I may have sent you the paper, actually, do you remember if I did? If not let me know, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

Just Eat It! said...

Certainly cultural messages do not help eating disorders, but I agree with you that it is not the cause. In my experience, I've met eating disordered people so young who wouldn't be able to tell Kate Moss from Oprah. The media doesn't usually influence people that young and they still have eating disorders. That, among other things, is what convinced me that eating disorders are biological and not "media borne" illnesses.

Carrie Arnold said...


I don't know if you sent me that paper- you might have but I was juggling so many files last year trying to write my thesis (a problem with which you are no doubt familiar!) that I'm guessing it got lost in the shuffle.


Amen to that. What I remember thinking was that losing weight might make me happy, which is obviously a dangerous cultural influence, but other than that thought, I wasn't trying to simply "be thin" until it grew into a life of its own.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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