Research Reveals Brain Connection in Eating Disorders

by Dr. SooMi Lee-Samuel MD

In the United States today, approximately 30 million people have some type of an eating disorder.  A full two-thirds of these individuals are female.

This comes as no shock. Our society in and of itself is far harder on females than males in every possible regard. Advertising, primarily geared to women, say we must purchase this makeup to be prettier, these shoes to be taller, and certainly, this diet plan to be thinner. The underlying message is that every single woman is “less than;” in other words, she is never good enough.

So it comes as no surprise that women have a higher number of eating disorders.

However, a recent study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex  reveals that it is not societal pressure alone that is behind this increased vulnerability; females, in fact have a neurological predisposition to negative body perception.

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The research study focused on the possible brain activity that might underlie negative body perceptions. The test group consisted of 32 healthy men and women, 16 of each, all of whom had no prior history of eating disorders. Participants wore a virtual reality headset that, when they looked down at themselves, they saw a slim or obese body.  Simultaneously, brain activity was monitored through magnetic resonance imaging.

It was discovered that when participants looked at their “obese” bodies, a link occurred between activity in the area of the brain associated with body perception and the region related to the processing of subjective emotions, such as fear and anger. Importantly, this brain activity was more prominent in women than men.  This indicates that having a very overweight body is likely to lead to higher body dissatisfaction in women.

Research such as this can help explain why women are so profoundly impacted by eating disorders. The more we know, the more we can combat and successfully treat these dangerous disorders.

 

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Laura Haag December 10, 2016 at 1:58 am

I am a mother of an adult daughter diagnosed with an eating disorder. I am also a teacher and enjoy educatiing myself, unfortunately on this topic. Dr. Lee, keep sharing research so we can continue to help these young women and their families.

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