While it is not groundbreaking news in the eating disorder community that those suffering from anorexia have a distorted perception of self, providing this scientific evidence is a leap in the right direction. Professionals have been experiencing this type of distortion and body dysmorphia with their patients and clients for quite some time, and demonstrating this idea with scientific proof is a noteworthy advancement.
Researchers from the University of Lille in France addressed perception and body image in a very innovative way. They used a projector to shine outlines of doors onto the wall, using different widths, and then asked participants whether they thought they would be able to fit through them. Next, researchers asked participants if they thought someone standing nearby would be able to fit through the same opening. Those participating in this study (who suffered from anorexia) were only able to answer the question correctly when deciding if someone else could fit through the opening.
This study is important for a number of reasons. It highlights the clinical and statistically significant difference between someone who has this illness, and someone who doesn’t. This is not a choice, a question of vanity, or a recovery that can take place over night. Dr. Elizabeth Frenkel, a supervising psychologist at the Princeton HealthCare System’s eating disorder program, explains the complexity of trying to change someone’s body image. Instead of attempting to alter deeply set roots, she teaches patients coping mechanisms, which help with recovery. Over time, patients can regain a healthier body image.
Vast cognitive differences exist between those who have the illness and those who do not, demonstrating that necessity of treatment should not simply focus on weight restoration. Treatment must extend beyond physical components and reach further into cognition and behavior. This is something that can be difficult for insurance companies to understand, as they often make weight based judgments.
Insurance companies often deny or discontinue treatment for eating disorders far before the patient has recovered. This study verifies the level of psychological, cognitive, and behavioral components involved with the illness, and thus the extent and level of treatment that should follow.
“Although this study proves what doctors have been seeing for years, the research is still in its early stages. Dr. Cynthia Bulik, who directs the University of North Carolina’s Eating Disorders Program, said a study of only 25 anorexic patients and 25 controls is not enough to draw conclusions, so the researchers’ work will have to be replicated.”
10 million people suffer from anorexia nervosa, and only $7 million has gone toward research, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Compare that with 4.5 million people suffering with Alzheimer’s disease and 2.2 million people suffering with schizophrenia, which get $412 million and $249 million toward research, respectively. Needless to say, more funds are needed for the advancement of research, treatment, and prevention of eating disorders.