False Reflection: MU professor studies how, why eating disorders consume females in the U.S.

Friday, February 6, 2009 | 1:56 p.m. CST; updated 11:20 a.m. CST, Monday, February 9, 2009
Anna Bardone-Cone, who runs the Eating Behaviors and Body Image Lab at MU, talks with Lauren Schaefer, left, a research assistant, Jennifer Aubrey, right, Assistant Professor of Communications, and students. The group met to discuss potential ways they will be categorizing data of people's reactions to pro-anorexia Web sites for her research project.

A childhood memory of a personal weight loss resolution  sparked MU professor Anna Bardone-Cone's interest in studying the causes and effects of eating disorders.

Bardone-Cone, director of the Eating Behaviors and Body Image Lab at MU, researches areas including pro-anorexia Web sites, disordered eating and body image.

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Harriet Brown February 7, 2009 | 7:00 a.m.

While Bardone-Cone's work is certainly admirable, she's missing a key factor and, sadly, perpetuating some of the most common misperceptions about eating disorders.

EDs are largely genetic in origin. Look at the work Dr. Walter Kaye is doing at University of California-San Diego, looking at neuroanatomy, particularly changes in the insula. People with anorexia and bulimia show changes in neuroanatomy and brain function that are very clearly different from those without the illness. These changes persist long after recovery, which suggests that these changes predate the illness and have a causal effect. Our society is full of triggers, like those Bardone-Cone describes, but triggers do not cause EDs.

Eating disorders are not "about" a wish to be thin, or a need to control. I've been researching and writing about them for years, and IMHO they are not "about" anything but the rotten luck of having a certain genotype and living in a culture full of triggers.

Please, Dr. Bardone-Cone, broaden your perspective and don't perpetuate these harmful stereotypes about people with EDs. For instance, EDs strike across the board, not just upper middle class white girls or Chinese girls. They are found among all ethnicities, SES, and, increasingly, among men as well.

You might also want to look at the work of drs. Daniel Le Grange at University of Chicago and Jim Lock at Stanford for a better understanding of EDs.

--Harriet Brown

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr February 7, 2009 | 10:02 a.m.

Alot or most of the Eating Disorder problems are mental as well due to low self esteem and other more than likely not diagnosed issues.

(Report Comment)
Leslie Long February 7, 2009 | 10:02 a.m.

Bardone-Cone (or those reporting on her work) has missed an enormously significant paradigm shift in the understanding of eating disorders. Treatment providers can waste precious time working to uncover the psychological "cause" of their clients' disorders.

Current understanding of the biological underpinnings of the disease suggests that some people are genetically predisposed to it. If they lose weight for any reason (diet, athletic activities, stress, etc) they risk going into "famine" mode. That which may have benefited the greater population in earlier times now serves only to make the individual suffer. Over time, selective pressures change but the genome takes a while to catch up.

Those with eating disorders are often powerless to shift out of famine mode and must have significant outside help to do so. There is a growing body of research suggesting methods by which this can be done. I encourage Prof. Bardone-Cone to investigate treatment approaches that follow an evidence-based medical model.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr February 7, 2009 | 12:46 p.m.

The thing is Leslie Long if anybody is to attempt to make a full recovery as they want a doctor or team of doctors must address ALL of the issues not just one.

The body is a very complex organism and as such it is not just one part that needs treatment but it is ALL PARTS that need to be treated equally.

This type of thing is just not "In and Out Recovery" by far and if it was we could just pull up to something like a Sonic and pop a burger in the ole mouth and it would be back on the road until the next crisis hit.

God forbid Mental Health Care ever becomes that simple.

(Report Comment)
Fran Lambeth February 7, 2009 | 12:49 p.m.

Thank you for this article. I am the operations manager at MorningStar Counseling Center located at 601 Business Loop 70-W, Suite 153A (Parkade Center). One of our counselors, Katherine Albers, MAMFC, PLPC, is launching an eating disorders group in March. The title is "Body Image Perspectives." Call (573) 499-4572 to sign up.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 7, 2009 | 2:11 p.m.

Dear Ms. Lambeth:
While I hold your agency in high esteem, for marriage counseling services, I feel compelled to share the following:
1. The name of your agency is actually known as Morningstar Christian Counseling
2. On one occasion I was denied access to a "resiliency support group" because one member did not want "a man" present. (Not very Christian, IMHO, considering that the group was never set up to be an all women's group in the first place.)
3. If Ms. Albers' group is for women only, it may be proper to have a referral for the men you turn away.
4. Was the author of the above article trying to be "cute" by stating that "eating disorders consume females?"
5. An interesting article from Psch Central..........
Body Image and Reality: Changing Perspectives?
By Jane Collingwood
6. As well as....
Overeaters Anonymous (OA) is a 12-step program for people who suffer from compulsive overeating. Although most people in OA rely on a rigid food plan, ...
7. A pretty decent book which has some great insight and suggestions as it relates to body image dysphoria...
(And it's actually written by two men!)
6. And finally, for now.....
Although more than twice as many women as men had eating disorders, ... Misconceptions of male eating disorders keep men from getting the help they need. ...
"Ta-ta, for now."
-Ray Shapiro

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro February 7, 2009 | 8:06 p.m.

For someone with an eating disorder, OCD manifests itself by leading the person to count calories methodically, exercise an EXACT amount at a specific time every day, cutting food up in a certain order and in specific shapes, having to have everything perfect (which includes weight), and so on. Because all of these activities are compulsions, meaning that they cannot be controlled until help is sought, it becomes impossible and unbearable for the person afflicted to try and stop on their own.

Just as with an eating disorder, OCD is not biased - it strikes all ethnic groups with males and females equally affected. Personality-wise, those who have other psychological problems such as depression, an eating disorder, or bipolar disorder tend to be more prone to developing OCD that others. The link that causes these disorders to be more prone seems to be the fact that perfectionism runs high in all of these psychological problems.

For someone that has an eating disorder, OCD is a way of control over the person's body and therefore, life. The OCD controls what kind of food goes in, what shape the food is, the color, the weight, the amount, what the person does in other areas of life, and so on. By completing the compulsions, the person once again feels "safe" or protected... until they have to perform another task again. Often the two problems - OCD and eating disorders - are linked through the problem of perfectionism. It's been said that the compulsive actions are a response to always feeling that nothing the person does is good enough (whether it has been or not) which has led them to over compensate for things.

Brain research techniques provided evidence of abnormalities in specific neurotransmitters used by brain cells to communicate with each has been proven to cause problems such as over eating, bulimia, and OCD.

...just like with an eating disorder, the longer a person goes without getting the help they need and deserve, the aggravated the OCD becomes. Inevitably treatment is needed.

cognitive behavioral therapy and the use of anti-depressant medication have been shown to help greatly with treating OCD and eating disorders. Common drugs that are used in treating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and eating disorders are Paxil, Prozac (our nation's favorite), Luvox, Anafranil, and Zoloft. These drugs affect the neurotransmitter serotonin and after about three weeks of use, more than three-quarters of patients are helped by these meds - at least a little. More than half of patients have their symptoms relieved by an anti-depressant, but usually if the medication is discontinued the patient will go into relapse and will feel the same obsessions and compulsions. However, cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to help patients wean themselves off of their meds safely and without nearly as many relapses.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr February 7, 2009 | 8:15 p.m.

Nice presentation ray and I want to add a little bit more from personal experience with this issue.

I notice in myself that food can be a "comfort medication" just like any other drug can be as well. It makes one feel good to eat but the bad side effects are that alot of the foods can cause more depression if the proper foods are not eaten in moderation.

It takes sticking to a diet regimen and working with councilors and group therapy for some to get over all of this as well as daily exercise too.

If you are going to treat the body for any issue then treat the entire body and that includes the mental functioning too.

This is a great thread topic.

(Report Comment)

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