Today, eating disorders are recognized at all ends of the spectrum, from compulsively eating too much and threatening one's health to compulsively eating too little -- also a life-threatening condition.
The always-interesting New Scientist featured an article by Linda Geddes today that documented a growing recognition that there may be a biochemical and genetic component to anorexia. The article cited twin studies that showed that between 50 and 83 percent of eating disorders were of genetic origin. New studies specifically conducted on people suffering from anorexia have shown cognitive similarities to others who have been clinically diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome; which is known to be of genetic origin.
Specifically, people with anorexia who have these cognitive patterns share inflexibility of thought processes with those who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. UK researchers used neuropsychological tests to measure "central coherence," or the ability to focus on larger concepts as opposed to fine details. The "false body image" of people with anorexia has been very well-documented; unable (without help) to "see" that they are actually extremely thin, people with anorexia can see only certain body parts at a time, or become fixated on imagined "fat" areas that do not exist. Many eating disorders also reflect a desire to control one's body and life, while overlooking the long-term health consequences related to the "control" - i.e., malnutrition and starvation.
Other researchers in the UK are taking a slightly different approach. In recognizing that Aspergers or other forms of autism are more often diagnosed in males, they are now wondering if a similar thought pattern occurring in females does take the form of anorexia, as some of the women studied shared more traits than just patterns of thought with those on the Aspergers/autism spectrum. The best news of all was that some patients who had received treatment to help counteract rigid thinking had already experienced improvements, and were better-able to manage their self-images and decisions about eating. Apparently, these ideas have been around for a while - one person commenting on this mother's eating disorder blog said that only $1.20 in research funding per patient diagnosed with eating disorders was spent, as compared to over $150 for patients diagnosed with schizophrenia. Well, these have all been in my family, so I consider that I've got all the bases covered.