A study has suggested that differences in brain activity may be an underlying cause of some of the unhealthy eating patterns that people with anorexia nervosa develop.
The study, which took place in New York found that those who had been hospitalised for the disorder activated unique areas of their brains when making decisions between various foods. In order to test this, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) which tracks blood flow in the brain. They did this on a group of women who had recently been hospitalised for anorexia and compared it to another group of healthy women.
Participants were asked to rate the healthiness and tastiness of 76 different foods and then answered a series of questions choosing between a food they had rated as ‘neutral’ and other foods on the list.
It was found that the participants who were suffering from the eating disorder were less likely than the comparison group to choose high fat foods over the neutral food item.
Based on the fMRI data, those in the anorexia group activated their dorsal striatum region of the brain which is tied to habitual actions far more than the other group when it came to choosing their foods. The choices participants made during the imaging studies matched their choices the next day as well.
Doctor Joanna Steinglass, a psychiatrist at Columbia University in New York commented:
“This study is the first to test the hypothesis that the behaviours in anorexia nervosa meet the cognitive neuroscience definition of ‘habit’. We found that while patients with anorexia are making choices about food, they show related activity in the dorsal striatum whereas healthy individuals do not. This suggests different neural mechanisms are active for these individuals.”
It is hoped that understanding these mechanisms may help with treatment research in the future.
If you think that you or someone you know could be suffering with an eating disorder, please feel free to visit our Anorexia Treatment Programme page for more information about the signs, symptoms and treatments available.