The Science

For someone who is quick to argue that eating disorders are complex conditions and responds, scathingly, to over-simplification and assumptions; I have left a great, gaping hole in my consideration.

It is otherwise known as science.

Whether it started as a defence mechanism (Doctors, what do they know?); or was jumbled up with the health – social – emotional – personal – cultural contexts that eating disorders fall into; or, is just down to the fact that my science education stopped 14 years ago… I seem to have neglected a key area of sense making, and forgotten to factor an understanding of genetics or biology in.

They have proved unexpectedly relevant.

Now I’m no scientist (BIG DISCLAIMER!) and I have to admit that the detail of research abstracts and medical breakthroughs tend to go right over my head; but, as I’ve tentatively probed this unchartered area in the past few months, there’s been some sparks of connections and a few ‘Ah Ha’ moments that I certainly didn’t expect to find.

In the sudden clicks of understanding, I’ve begun to fill in a few of the gaps and realise that my eating disorder might not have been the personal flaw or inexplicable phenomenon I had it down for. It might also have had something to do with how I was made up;and as much to do with what was going on in my body, as what was happening in my head.

For example, I recognise myself in the…

“exaggerated worry and concern about what might happen in the future” that researchers have linked to“increased dopamine D2 and D3 receptor activity in another part of the basal ganglia called the dorsal caudate, which was related to anorexics’ responses to and avoidance of harm.” (from Psychiatric Times)

…and, even though I’ve no idea of what a dopamine D2 receptor is, the anxiety stuff’s an area where I’m right at home.

Similarly, the connection between conformity and “the internalization of societal standards of attractiveness” (citeulike) that is (apparently) common in those with eating disorders, starts to qualify a predisposition that I’ve sensed, but not quite been able to put my finger on.


Whilst I certainly haven’t concluded that my eating disorder was all inevitable, it’s becoming a little more comprehensible than it was before. And, although I still feel that the experience is highly subjective, I am beginning to understand that I wasn’t – contrary to my head’s previously taunts – totally on my own or, worse, a bit of a freak –

For example, the fact that I could binge without feeling full might not have been an indication of my personal greed; but linked into the possible impairment of Interoceptive awareness (or “the sense of the physiological condition of the body”, including the senses around food and recognising emotions) that ED bites so eloquently describes.

And, maybe the volatility in my emotions was linked into to the chemical stuff happening in my brain, as touched on by this piece in PubMed, or the effects of starvation rather than being a personal reaction that didn’t make any sense.

I don’t really get the science, and I’m not here to offer any high brow expertise -

But I spent a very long time thinking that my eating disorder was a personal failing – or a bad choice – or something that I didn’t fight hard enought against; and, I’ve been struck, recently, by the fact that there’s some information out there which might just prove me wrong -

People who do get the science:

Here are a few of the places that have opened my eyes to the scientific stuff:

People who are behind the science:

I didn’t quite get the point of research when I was ill. I’m beginning to understand it’s value.

If you live in the UK and want to get involved, you can visit the Institute of Psychiatry website, or email Ertimiss Eshkevari to help with their work, currently around intrusive thoughts, the use of vodcasts, and self awareness around inner and outer selves.

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2 Responses to “The Science”

  1. Abby says:

    Interesting post, as even though I have no science background, I am a walking, breathing example of anxiety and depression manifesting itself in eating disorder behaviors. I have times when I do blame myself and see myself as “weak” for not being able to beat this and move on, but I also find some comfort in the science behind the neurosis (ED Bites and other cited examples).

    For me, I want a reason, and “just because of society” was not a reason that I overexercised or restricted. If I have a reason, I can fix it (ha). There are things going on in my head that I have no clue about, but it does help to have science back-up some of my realizations and what I considered irrational thinking. My past personal history, events, predispositions to certain triggers, etc. all play a role.

    I ironically try and avoid discomfort by bringing it on myself, in controlled ways. I try and avoid succumbing to societal standards and pressure by going the way of extremes, making myself unattractive and no longer the target for social obligations and objections to my “routines.” I am basically in survival mode the best way I know how–not the healthiest, but the most comfortable.

    Sorry for the ramble, but I guess until a few months ago (intro to blog world) I thought I was alone with this line of thinking, that it was a character flaw that I highlighted and exposed. However, my brain is malnourished and I understand that some things are out of my control to a certain extent. Mental illness is not a choice, but a challenge we have to cope with and overcome. I just wish more people wouldn’t automatically make the assumption that it’s a vanity issue, that I choose to be “sick” because I want to be thin or noticed or “special.” I wish more people realized the science behind the struggle and accepted it as valid and concrete.

    Until then, I have to accept it myself and work with the knowledge I have (using those powers for good and not evil this time.)

  2. melissa says:

    This is not a ramble – there are some great points here! I too empathise with the idea of going to the other end of the spectrum and had also overlooked the blog world. Reading other people’s stories has given me great insight over the past six months and even when there have been differences, I’ve felt more connected and far more able to understand what’s going on.

    For me, the science stuff adds another dimension to the picture. It means that I’ve got more bits and pieces to select what fits from and far more to work with.

    Wishing you all the best in your journey!