One of the most puzzling aspects of anorexia is that men and women who have this disease perceive themselves as “fat,” often a despite significantly low body weight. Research released today in the journal Behavioural Brain Research may help to shed light on this phenomenon. Researchers have found “altered connectivity” in the brain network for body perception in people with anorexia, which they believe leads to this misjudgement of body shape.
Researchers used functional magnetic imaging to look at which brain regions were active in women with anorexia when presented with pictures of bodies. The study involved ten anorexic and fifteen healthy women of similar age. Women were first asked to judge different silhouettes and select which one corresponded best to their own body shape.
The researchers found that when people see pictures these silhouettes, a range of brain regions are active. In women with anorexia nervosa, two regions that are important for the processing of body images were functionally more weakly connected in anorexic women than in healthy women.
The stronger this "connection error" was, the more overweight the respondents considered themselves. "These alterations in the brain could explain why women with anorexia perceive themselves as fatter, even though they are objectively underweight" says Prof. Dr. Boris Suchan of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Ruhr-Universität in Germany.
This study lends further credence to the idea that anorexia and other disorders of body image are biologically based. It may also open pathways to new therapeutic approaches which focus on retraining anorexic men and women specific techniques for gauging body image more realistically.