Sunday Smorgasbord

Yet another installment of some interesting nibbles related to eating disorders. I hope you enjoy this week's selection!

Our Basic Human Pleasures: Food, Sex, and Giving

Finding happiness is something that I think everyone struggles with. I used to think that losing weight would make my happy--or at least happier because I wouldn't have to be anxious about what I weighed. Obviously, this didn't work. I think lots of people try to find happiness, and there are many blogs and books that address the topic, and the answer is relatively simple: our social networks have a lot to do with how happy we are. Humans need other people.

What attracted me to this Nicholas Kristof op-ed piece in the New York Times was the fact that the title discussed how food and sex were among some of the basic human pleasures. An eating disorder pretty much obliterates the possibility of enjoying the first two (the food part is obvious, the sex part tends to be secondary to malnutrition), so I was curious to see what Kristof had to say. It turns out the article was about how altruism may be as basic of a pleasure for humans as food or sex.

"So at a time of vast needs, from Haiti to our own cities, here’s a nice opportunity for symbiosis: so many afflicted people, and so much benefit to us if we try to help them. Let’s remember that while charity has a mixed record helping others, it has an almost perfect record of helping ourselves. Helping others may be as primal a human pleasure as food or sex."

In times of great need, it's important to honor both our basic human needs for food and water, and also to help others.

Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up

Perfectionism is one of the major traits of people with eating disorders. I'm, like, the Perfectionism Poster Girl (although many times I don't think I'm good enough to be a Perfectionism Poster Girl, which probably indicates why I should be the Perfectionism Poster Girl). It turns out, however, that our mistakes and failures can teach us more than any successes.

The reason we’re so resistant to anomalous information — the real reason researchers automatically assume that every unexpected result is a stupid mistake — is rooted in the way the human brain works. Over the past few decades, psychologists have dismantled the myth of objectivity. The fact is, we carefully edit our reality, searching for evidence that confirms what we already believe. Although we pretend we’re empiricists — our views dictated by nothing but the facts — we’re actually blinkered, especially when it comes to information that contradicts our theories. The problem with science, then, isn’t that most experiments fail — it’s that most failures are ignored.

It's a hard lesson for a perfectionist like me to swallow: perhaps I shouldn't be striving to avoid failures, but rather striving to learn from them, to take in the information I might not want to hear. Rather than writing off the failure as obviously my fault (I'm still anxious about my weight...I know, let's lose more weight!) and look closer at the data at hand (Gee, I've only been more miserable since I've started losing weight...could this be the real problem?).

Failure is a part of life. So if that's the case, we may as well make the best of it.

Risk factors and ED Prevention

A recent study from Eric Stice at the Oregon Research Institute looked at risk factors for eating disorders and how they should inform our prevention efforts. The entire abstract is fairly straightforward, so I've copied and pasted it here:

Prospective studies have identified factors that increase risk for eating pathology onset, including perceived pressure for thinness, thin-ideal internalization, body dissatisfaction, dietary restraint, and negative affect. Research also suggests that body dissatisfaction and dietary restraint may constitute prodromal stages of the development of eating disorders. Prevention trials indicate that interventions that reduce pressure to be thin, thin-ideal internalization, body dissatisfaction, and negative affect significantly reduce eating disorder symptoms. Further, there is evidence that selective prevention programs that target young women at elevated risk for eating pathology by virtue of thin-ideal internalization, body dissatisfaction, and negative affect produce significant larger intervention effects than do universal programs offered to unselected populations. Thus, research on risk factors and prodromal stages of eating pathology has assisted in the design of efficacious prevention programs and the identification of high-risk individuals to target with these interventions; additional research in this area may lead to even more effective prevention programs.

I'm not going to say that Stice is wrong; however, I don't know that this is the whole picture of effective ED prevention. We know anxiety disorders are very common in people with eating disorders, so prevention efforts along those lines might be more effective at preventing EDs. We don't know. Yes, body image is an important aspect of eating disorders for many people (though not all!) and distorted body image is a problem in people who don't have clinical eating disorders. But that's not the only path to an ED, and I wish there was more recognition of this in prevention efforts.

Sleep disturbances in women with EDs

I've been an insomniac since I was a child, but the eating disorder was one of the big heydays of my insomnia. Researchers have long known that many people with eating disorders also have difficulty sleeping, but this study looked at sleep disturbances among different diagnoses and subtypes of EDs. They found that people with the binge/purge subtype of anorexia, and the purging subtype of bulimia had the most disturbed sleep patterns, and that an increase in sleep disturbances was correlated with a greater severity of binge eating and vomiting.

Thus we have almost come full circle back to the first piece in this smorgasbord: the importance of food and sleep in human happiness. They're so easy to neglect, but so important to remember.

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Jane said...

I hope that you find some satisfaction knowing how many people you help through your writing : )

I've been a big fan of Stice's work for a while. It's the kind of stuff that's likely to lay the groundwork for more effective early interventions.

Abby said...

Great gathering of info, as always, and rather ironic as I just posted about EDs and sex myself. Great, disordered minds think alike...;)

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to add that Stice's research shows a reduction in BN symptoms in a high risk population. AN, on the other hand, may benefit from different early interventions. Mt Sinai is looking at FBT for emerging AN and Stanford's "Parents Act Now" is looking at an internet based intervention for parents of kids with early AN symptoms. Anyway, Stice's work may not be the whole answer (he certainly doesn't claim it is) but it's interesting stuff. Worth the effort to look at the full text of some of his earlier work IMO.

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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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