Friday, May 11, 2012

Why Is Anorexia So Persistent?

Compulsive dieting associated with anorexia nervosa may be a learned habit that becomes ingrained over time and extraordinarily difficult to break. So suggested Timothy Walsh, M.D., Ruane Professor of Pediatric Psychopharmacology at Columbia University, in a lecture Tuesday at APA's annual meeting in Philadelphia titled "The Persistent Enigma of Anorexia Nervosa."

Walsh proposed a new conceptual model that attempts to explain why compulsive dieting—despite its potentially deadly consequences—is so remarkably durable. Drawing on learning theory, Walsh suggested that dieting, initially rewarding, becomes a fixed habit that occurs automatically and involves a structured behavioral sequence prone to be elicited by a particular context or stimulus. Walsh said such a model helps explain why early intervention with adolescents is more effective, accounts for notable similarities between anorexia nervosa and substance use disorders, and suggests that specific neural circuits are involved.

Prior to his lecture, Walsh described his theory in an interview with Psychiatric News. Watch the video

(Image: kentoh/


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