Sunday Smorgasbord

Like I mentioned yesterday, this week had quite a few interesting little tidbits so I decided to expand the usual single smorgasbord into two: a Saturday Smorgasbord and this one today. I hope none of you mind the deviation from normal (full disclosure: I'm a little freaked out by it!) but I didn't want to not mention these things, and I also didn't time to mention everything and keep up with my regular blogging. So compromise it is.

Today's nuggets are less overtly eating disorder-related, but I do think they all help elucidate our understanding of eating disorders, however tangential it may seem.

Blame it on the Brain: The Science Behind Failed Resolutions

Maybe this is just some tedious self-justification for why I don't make New Year's resolutions, but the research is interesting, as is the venue (The Wall Street Journal- not my usual early morning reading). From the article by Jonah Lehrer:

Given its limitations, New Year's resolutions are exactly the wrong way to change our behavior. It makes no sense to try to quit smoking and lose weight at the same time, or to clean the apartment and give up wine in the same month. Instead, we should respect the feebleness of self-control, and spread our resolutions out over the entire year. Human routines are stubborn things, which helps explain why 88% of all resolutions end in failure, according to a 2007 survey of over 3,000 people conducted by the British psychologist Richard Wiseman. Bad habits are hard to break—and they're impossible to break if we try to break them all at once.

... A tired brain, preoccupied with its problems, is going to struggle to resist what it wants, even when what it wants isn't what we need.

There's something unsettling about this scientific model of willpower. Most of us assume that self-control is largely a character issue, and that we would follow through on our New Year's resolutions if only we had a bit more discipline. But this research suggests that willpower itself is inherently limited, and that our January promises fail in large part because the brain wasn't built for success.

This also may help explain, in part, why times of stress are such prime areas for relapse to occur, whether in EDs, addictions, or even other disorders like depression and anxiety. Our brains just get too tired to resist.

Anxious Brains May be Scrambling Fear Messages

Anxiety is related to fear, in a sense, but it is also fundamentally different from fear. The relationship between anxiety and fear may be related to how people with anxiety disorders process fear-related information. Unlike people without anxiety, this fear-related information has been mixed in with emotion.

From the PsychCentral article:

Scrambled connections between the part of the brain that processes fear and emotion and other brain regions could be the hallmark of a common anxiety disorder, according to new research. The findings could help researchers identify biological differences between types of anxiety disorders as well as such disorders as depression.

...people with [Generalized Anxiety Disorder] have a harder time discerning truly worrisome situations from mild annoyances. At the same time, the amygdala was more connected to a cortical executive-control network previously found to exert cognitive control over emotion.

The cognitive control connection might explain why GAD is characterized by obsessive worry, Etkin said. People with the disorder feel overwhelmed by emotion and don’t believe they can feel sad or upset without coming completely undone. So, in an attempt to avoid facing their unpleasant feelings, they distract themselves by fretting. Such overthinking may work in the short term but becomes problematic over time.

Um, hi. Thanks for summarizing my life. Either I deal with things by obsessively worrying, or obsessively doing something else, whether that is ED related (restricting my food, counting calories, exercising) or not (studying, cleaning, etc).

Study finds reward centers in brains of depressed people lacks endurance

I'll let Scientific American Mind do some of the talking for me about this study:

Clinical depression can zap the pleasure out of an enjoyable meal or the thrill out of winning a prize, among other symptoms. Not surprisingly, a region of the brain involved in reward and motivation, called the nucleus accumbens, has been associated with depression. But up to now, it had been unclear what went wrong with this region in the brains of people suffering from clinical depression...[A new study] suggests that the problem is not merely a lack of activity in the nucleus accumbens (NAcc). This region still became activated after depressed participants looked at images associated with positive emotions. But, after looking at a series of both positive and negative images, NAcc activity eventually faded, suggesting that the reward center cannot sustain happiness in depressed people.

...The researchers also connected the activity of the NAcc region with emotions among the depressed group. Over the course of the session, as the level of NAcc activation dropped, so did the level of positive emotion that depressed participants reported they experienced.

"[A] treatment regime which attempts to increase the depressed patient's ability to sustain engagement of the NAcc may ameliorate [depression] symptoms," the authors wrote

Which makes a whole lot of sense. Even at the worst of my depression, I can sometimes feel brief pangs of something other than abject misery. It's not like winning the lottery wouldn't make me perk up, just a little bit. The problem is that percolation (is that the right word?) wouldn't last. Five minutes after learning I won the lotto, life would return to its usual level of suckitude (this is definitely a word, because I said so, and Blogger spell checker can go bite me). Sometimes, when these brief moments of joy stop appearing entirely, it's easier than when they continue to crop up because I simply stop missing them. I start to forget what anything other than depression can feel like.

That's the end of this week's (expanded) smorgasbord. I hope you all enjoyed. As usual, stay tuned for next week's buffet of ED-related information.

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1 comment:

Cathy (UK) said...

I enjoyed this weekend's tasty buffet, despite being in days 7 and 8 of flu... (It's day 9 now and I still feel semi-crap).

Its interesting that you comment that these studies are "tangential" to EDs... True, they don't mention EDs, but they hone in on the important factors/mechanisms that underpin EDs, alongside the factors/mechanisms that need to be addressed in the treatment of EDs.

Had I not developed anorexia nervosa (AN) at age 11, I would probably have been diagnosed with major depression. In fact, had I not developed AN, I would probably have taken my life. AN was an alternative to something more immediate. I had generalised anxiety disorder pre-AN and my AN coincided with major depression.

It escapes me why ED programmes focus on (e.g.) treating 'body image' or focusing on thoughts + feelings about weight and food. Weight, food and shape issues may appear to be the underlying problems (not only to therapists, but to the patients themselves) - but surely they're merely symptoms of abnormal brain physiology?

I sigh when I read about well meaning ED prevention campaigns titled (e.g.) 'Love Your Body'... Sure, it's important that we don't mistreat our bodies, but body disparagement and ED behaviours are just symptoms - are they not? Take away all a person's ED symptoms/coping behaviours simultaneously and they either:

(1) Develop alternative behaviours
(2) Feel suicidal

...and this links back to the theory of behaviour change highlighted in your first tidbit...

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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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