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August 12, 2019 | by  | in News |
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Telling People with EDs to “Just Eat”: Never worked, never will, and now we have more proof.

CW: Eating Disorders (AN)

Last month saw the publication of the very first genetic study on anorexia nervosa. The study, by Nature Genetics, outlined what some of the possible contributing factors to the eating disorder may be.

Nearly 17,000 individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa contributed their DNA to the study, 500 of whom were from New Zealand. Over 50,000 genomes were used as control samples (for comparison).

The results showed genetic correlations with other psychiatric and metabolic disorders, meaning that certain genes and chemical reactions can significantly predispose someone to the development of anorexia.

These factors are independent of BMI, thus suggesting that a low body weight should not be the only characteristic used to identify those with anorexia nervosa.

The outcome of the study hopes to “further encourage a reconceptualization of anorexia nervosa as a metabo-psychiatric disorder”.

The study concludes that the “critical direction for future research” is to stop thinking of anorexia nervosa solely as a psychiatric illness, but one that has many facets; including the genetics of the individual.

Salient spoke to Hannah Hawkins Elder (PhD in Clinical Psychology, focusing on theoretical explanations for eating disorders). She pointed out that the publication—while very important—is also implying “very clearly that psychology, and metabolics or biology, is very separate”.

In the case of a medical condition, she says, “You go to a doctor and they fix it, somebody else is doing the work. Whereas in psychology, a client has to play quite a big agential role in their treatment.”

By re-classifying anorexia as more of a medical rather than psychological condition, “People are being cast as spectators of their own life, their own internal emotional life… That [those with disorders] don’t have a say in it.”

Eating disorders, Hawkins Elder concluded, are “such complicated disorders… It is very tempting for people to try and find a simpler way to understand them […] but the problem is when you do that you’re losing knowledge, depth and detail, which limits our ability to actually help [those with eating disorders] effectively.”

If you, or someone you love, is engaging in disordered behaviours surrounding food and/or exercise, you can visit www.ed.org.nz/ or Mauri Ora services to find out more.

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