With the end of the year comes reflection on what we’ve learned about eating disorders and mental health in 2020. Predictably, a majority of the new eating disorder-related research published in 2020 focused on the impact of the pandemic including the emotional toll of quarantine, decreased access to care, teletherapy, and caregiver stress. Beyond the Covid-related study, there were also new articles published on topics such as autism and eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and EDs in college students.
Here are a few of the most exciting research findings
in the eating disorder field from 2020:
Those with eating disorders who go to the gym (versus those who do not go to the gym) are 12 times more likely to have body dysmorphia. Body dysmorphia is when a person obsesses over perceived flaws in their appearance – even though no one else notices these characteristics. Body dysmorphia can cause anxiety and decreased self-esteem and based on the results of a 1600-person survey, those who attend workouts at a gym have higher rates of it. (Source)
There are brain similarities between those with anorexia nervosa and those with body dysmorphia. A UCLA research team led an experiment that took brain scans of people with anorexia nervosa, body dysmorphic disorder, and healthy controls. For those with anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder, the brain worked in similar ways when looking for flaws in images of different body types, showing that there were overlapping abnormalities in brain function across these two groups. This finding could impact future treatment for patients with both disorders. (Source)
Anorexia nervosa stunts growth. Based on a study that measured the height of 255 girls aged 15 years old and their subsequent heights after treatment and later in life, this Israel-based team showed that many of them did not reach their full height potential. This speaks to the levels of malnutrition that anorexia nervosa causes and how important it is to treat early. (Source)
The stress created by the pandemic led both males and females to feel less satisfied with their bodies. A UK-based study showed that during the major stress-inducing periods of the pandemic, there was a tendency for women to want to be thinner and for men to want to be more muscular, highlighting that in times of anxiety, gender-typical lines become more pronounced. Overall, the pandemic gave both genders more dissatisfaction with their body image. (Source)
There may be an overlap between autistic traits and eating disorder risk. Based on responses from a longitudinal study from University College London, children who have higher rates of autistic traits have a greater risk of developing eating disorders – 20-30 percent of adults with eating disorders have autism. The team conjectures that the autistic traits come first, and their impact may lead to a higher risk of developing an eating disorder. (Source)
CBT-E is an effective treatment for those with eating disorders. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Eating Disorders is a type of therapy now shown to be effective at increasing BMI in anorexia patients through an intensive in-patient then out-patient program. Weight was maintained within a healthy range 60 weeks post-treatment. (Source)
For college students, COVID 19 led to an increased preoccupation with weight and shape without an actual change in body weight or BMI. So essentially, worry about weight, eating, and exercise increased under the influence of the pandemic – and subjects believed they were gaining weight – but actual changes in weight were negligible if any. (Source)
If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, please reach out to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss treatment options, including our comprehensive DBT-ED.