Anorexia Nervosa: The (Not So) Fun House of Mirrors


          Ever look at a Barbie’s figure and wish that your reflection looked the same? Or have you seen Barbie’s stylish friend Ken and thought: that’s got to be me one day. With the rate of obesity worldwide having doubled since 1980 according to the World Health Organization, one would think that these slimmer ideals would cause a healthy shift towards a more fit ideal body; that it would stimulate a healthy movement towards better food choices and optimal levels of exercise. But the problem lies in the actual construction of Barbie’s super-slim-yet–curvy figure, for this figure is physically impossible. And so many are left running and dieting in pursuit of a figure that never quite matches that reflection in the mirror. That reflection always seems just too big. And over time that reflection is still too big even when the actual body has gotten  more and more slender. And this pattern continues until the body is noticeably unhealthily slender to everyone except for the person standing in front of the mirror.

            Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characteristic of long periods of starvation or very restricted food intake. Oftentimes a person with Anorexia will also work out excessively and almost obsessively work towards a perpetually thinner body. Even as a body with Anorexia gets thinner, its reflection remains large. No, that wasn’t a typo. It is, rather, the reality someone with Anorexia lives with every day. Studies looking at how a person with Anorexia understands others and how he/she perceives his/her own body shows a gap in their brain’s capacity to understand these images properly. One such study monitored overall brain function[N1]  as patients with Anorexia were asked to compare their bodies and  their homes with images of slim bodies and with picture of other homes in order to flesh out any differences in the reactions (Friederich et al. 2010). When these patients were asked to analyze the pictures of homes in relation to their own homes, they did not exhibit much anxiety; especially not in comparison to when they were asked to compare the ideal body to their own . The houses also carry some emotional attachment as they too can be considered a reflection of one’s taste. Yet the patients were not nearly as offended or ashamed of their homes as they were of their bodies. Researchers even monitored their brain activity in search of a scientific understanding of this disparity and came to see that certain parts of the brain were activated only when patients were asked to compare their body image. People with Anorexia are not merely in denial of the reality of their emaciated figure, they actually seem to be wired to only see an unfitting image in the mirror, to be dissatisfied with their reflection . Body dissatisfaction is a key factor at work with Anorexia and its severity distinguishes this disorder from other eating disorders as well

            Dealing with Anorexia is not as simple as forcing yourself to eat. Its relearning how you see yourself. And that is a much steeper task.

References: 

Friederich, H-C., Brooks S., Uher R., Campbell I., Giampietro V., Brammer M., Williams S.,

Herzog., Treasure J., (2010). Neural correlates of body dissatisfaction in anorexia nervosa. Neuropsychologia, 48(10): 2878- 2885. Doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.04.036

 

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