The Boston Globe

The Ancestry of Anorexia
Blame biology, not parenting, new theory suggests

by Ellen Ruppel Shell

The Boston Globe | December 30, 2003


Anorexia, the most lethal of psychiatric disorders, afflicts as many as 1 percent of young women and about a tenth as many men, and casts a Svengalian spell, leading its victims to willingly starve themselves in the midst of plenty. Now, psychologist Shan Guisinger has developed a radical new view of anorexia that she says explains both the bizarre features of the illness — self starvation and hyperactivity — and its resistance to treatment by traditional psychotherapy.

Anorexia, she contends, is not primarily a psychological condition brought on by a troubled childhood — as is often thought — but a disorder based in biology, specifically in the appetite regulation mechanism in the brain. Her theory postulates that anorexics have a biological adaptation to weight loss that causes their bodies to shut off hunger signals, and to ratchet up physical activity, even as their flesh melts away.

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