Why Anorexia Is So Hard to Beat

March 30, 2016

Experts estimate that as many as half of all anorexia patients who recover end up relapsing. Many have assumed this was because the patients weren’t emotionally ready for recovery. But new research published in
Nature Neuroscience
found that it might have more to do with the hardwiring of the brain: The decision to eat low-calorie foods becomes habitual on a neurological level. fMRI scans showed that when choosing what to eat, anorexic patients showed more activity in the part of the brain associated with habitual behaviors than healthy subjects, who were able to make more nuanced food choices. For example, anorexic patients automatically scan menus for the lowest-calorie option without even thinking about it. Researchers believe that changing something in patients’ eating routines, such as the silverware or where they eat, might help them try new foods more easily.