A new study out of the University of Colorado sheds light on why people with eating disorders can actually override the urge to eat.
The study was led by scientists at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Dr. Guido Frank, associate professor of psychiatry and neuroscience, led the study.
"I do think there are many factors that make people vulnerable to develop an eating disorder," Frank said. "There are also a lot of environmental factors that may come into play."
Dr. Frank and his team were interested in studying how the brain drives eating disorders.
Using brain scans, they examined 26 healthy women and 26 women with anorexia or bulimia nervosa.
The researchers found alterations in the ‘white matter’ of their brains. This matter controls communication between different parts of the brain, including the hypothalamus, which tells us when we are hungry.
Signals from other parts of the brain were able to override the hypothalamus.
Scientists found the pathways that connect these parts of the brain were much weaker in the 26 women with eating disorders. So, those women were able to fend off the signals to eat.
"The study results support the idea that you can use ‘mind over matter’ – that you can use your drive not to eat to override your bottom up body-drive to eat," Frank said. "These higher order brain regions overcome that strive to eat. Whereas you might say, ‘I’m really hungry I need something to eat now’, someone who is really terrified of gaining weight might have the ability to override that."
Doctor Frank says certain "types" of people may be more prone to eating disorders.
"There must be strong genetic aspects to our brain that when you do certain behaviors, including food restriction and lots of exercise, then something kicks in and then you develop an eating disorder," said Dr. Frank
The next step in his study is to look at children, to see when all of this starts to come into play.