Biology and Eating Disorders

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Re-posted from Cleveland Center for Eating Disorders (CCED) blog archives. CCED and The Emily Program partnered in 2014.

By Mark Warren, MD

The book Eating Disorders and the Brain edited by Drs Lask and Frampton continues to be an extraordinarily important book to understanding the etiology of eating disorders. Given our current knowledge, we often say that eating disorders are biologically based. Yet, this is somewhat of a two-dimensional statement as eating disorders are experienced as complex and multifactorial.

A large number of factors seem to be interacting when someone presents with an eating disorder. These include genes, early attachment, personality issues, cultural issues, cultural norms, peer relationships, sensitivity, and on and on. Current biological work is beginning to show us is that many of these factors may in fact be related to one and other. The complex development of the eating disorder can be understood as the product of a specific genetic profile that develops in a specific individual under specific circumstances. Rigidity, perfectionism, skillfulness, and skill deficits, that are often seen in individuals with the illness are often mislabeled as “causes” when they are in fact part and parcel of the same developmental picture that may ultimately result in an eating disorder. With continued research of the brain, we are closer to understanding this complexity in terms of a specific biology that causes multiple expressions and can ultimately understood and treated through development and improvement of structures within the brain.

Contributions by Sarah Emerman

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