• Decoding Anorexia: How Breakthroughs in Science Offer Hope For Eating Disorders

    By: Carrie Arnold

     Decoding Anorexia



    • This book examines anorexia nervosa from a biological point of view.  The author breaks down the genetics and neuroscience behind this disorder in an easy to read manner.  The book offers numerous scientific studies about eating disorders, along with the author's own personal stories about her struggle with anorexia.  Throughout the book the author also provides narratives from interviews that she has conducted with other people who suffer from eating disorders.

    Main Points

    • Sociocultural vs Biological Viewpoints
      • Sociocultural-Anorexia is caused by exposure to popular culture (skinny models,  societal pressure to be thin, ect.), poor parenting, or abuse.
      • Biological-Anorexia is based in biology, up to 86% of your risk for developing anorexia is genetic.  Cases of anorexia have been found across culture, gender, socioeconomic class, and throughout history.
    • Anorexia is a brain-based mental illness
      • The insula, which is a part of the brain that helps other parts of the brain communicate with each other, has been found to malfunction in people who have anorexia.  Without this communication the brain has difficulty making simple decisions, it can’t decided what/where to eat, so it doesn’t. Starvation then reduces blood flow to the brain, which causes other areas of the brain to malfunction.
      • Interoceptive awareness (hunger, thirst, body temp, pain, emotional state, ect.) are managed by the insula.  This information is processed much more slowly in the insula of a person with anorexia, this slow processing does not allow them to get an accurate sense of what is going on with their bodies and feelings.  This means that they are unable to sense and respond to hunger in an appropriate manner.
      • Interoception is also connected to body dysmorphia.  People with high interoception will be able to form their body image from inner feelings and external cues, while people with low interoception will base their body image mostly off of external cues (weight, seeing themselves in a mirror).   
    • Genetics Role in Anorexia
      • A person’s genetic risk for developing anorexia increases significantly during puberty.
      • No specific gene has been linked to anorexia, but it is an area that continues to be studied.
      • Traits that make you more susceptible to developing anorexia: Family history of eating disorders, anxious, depressive tendencies, perfectionism, inflexible, rule-bound, excessive doubt and cautiousness, drive for order and symmetry, and obsessive-compulsive personality traits.


    Courtesy of Caitlin Schmitz, Sonoma State University Graduate School of Counseling, May 2018