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Study: Anorexic patients hold distorted body views

Anorexic patients view themselves as much larger but not others

Anorexia nervosa is a serious, occasionally chronic, and potentially life-threatening eating disorder defined as a refusal to maintain minimal body weight within 15% of an individual’s normal weight. Other symptoms include an intense fear of gaining weight, denial of the seriousness of the illness, amenorrhea and distorted body image according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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Researchers from the University Hospital of Lille in France, note that body image distortion is not the only symptom as anorexia patients also have a distorted image of their body in action, but when it comes to judging the body of others they are accurate.

For this study, researchers led by Dr. Dewi Guarrdin, MD, sought to determine whether distorted judgment about action is specifically observed by those with anorexia or if it is a symptom of general impairment in intuition discrimination.

In this study, 25 anorexic patients and 25 control patients participated. Participants were shown a door like opening. They were asked to judge whether or not they could pass through the opening and if another person could pass through.

In past experiments which were similar to this one, anorexic patients felt they could not pass through even though the doorway was wide enough to easily walk through.

In this study, similar results were seen as anorexic patients felt they could not fit through the doorway even when it was easily wide enough. The more weight they lost in the prior six months, they thought the door needed to be wider to pass through. When it came to judging if another person in the room could pass through the doorway anorexic patients were able to judge accurately.

Researchers suggest that anorexic patients may think of themselves as the previous size. Researchers write that their results suggest “that body overestimation can affect judgments about the capacity for action but only when they concern the patient’s own body. This could be related to impairments of the overall network involved in the emergence of the body schema and in one’s own perspective judgments.”

Researchers concluded that overestimation of the body’s structure may occur because the central nervous systems has not updated the new meager body.

This new study appears online in PLoS ONE.

It has been estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating disorder, seven million women and one million men. One in 200 American women suffer from anorexia. A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that 5 – 10% of anorexics die within 10 years after contracting the disease; 18-20% of anorexics will be dead after 20 years and only 30 – 40% ever fully recover, according to South Carolina Department of Mental Health.

More information on anorexia nervosa and associated disorders can be viewed online at the National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.