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Anorexics do not necessarily fear becoming fat

Wednesday 8th June 2016
The pleasure of losing weight plays a greater role than the fear of becoming fat in anorexic patients, according to new research. Image: ereidveto via iStock
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The pleasure of losing weight is a stronger force than the fear of becoming fat in individuals with anorexia and other eating disorders, a new study has suggested.

Research carried out by doctors at the French Institute of Health and Medical Research, Paris Descartes University and Sainte Anne Hospital assessed the three criteria that are used to diagnose anorexia nervosa around the world, finding that the third point may need changing.

Traditionally, anorexia is diagnosed in patients who are restricting their food intake, have a distorted perception of their body and weight, and who have a deep-rooted fear of getting fat.

However, new findings suggest that these concerns over weight gain are not as prominent in anorexic patients' minds as the pleasure of losing weight.

This discovery was made following a study involving 70 female eating disorder sufferers, who were shown a series of images - some of dangerously thin bodies, and some of people who were of a healthy weight.

Doctors found that when presented with the thinner images, participants began to sweat more, indicating a greater emotional response in their brains than when they were shown the healthier pictures. In fact, the 'fatter' photos produced no significant emotional reaction at all.

The researchers believe that if patients were indeed scared of gaining weight, some form of response would have been recorded, leading them to conclude that the pleasure of losing weight is more important to anorexia sufferers than the fear of potentially getting fat.

Professor Philip Gorwood, lead author of the study, commented: "It is important to call into question the criteria at the very root of the disorder. We have therefore re-evaluated the last criterion, although it is quite prominent in patient discourse, by assuming that it is a mirror image of what is really involved, i.e. a reward for losing weight.

"We established the postulate that patients felt pleasure at becoming thin rather than fear of becoming fat."

Written by Martin Lambert

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