Facebook Pixel

Anorexia and Autism Genetically Related, Study Finds

Rate This

The London based Maudsley Hospital’s Eating Disorders Unit views anorexia differently than most American hospitals, reports Maia Szalavitz in Time magazine on Jan. 19, 2009.

At Maudsley Hospital, Szalavitz writes, “…anorexia is not seen as a social disorder — or even primarily a psychological one….researchers at Maudsley believe the root cause [of anorexia] has little to do with social pressure.…anorexia is better explained by heredity— perhaps by some of the same genes associated with autism.” It seems science is linking more disorders to genes: diseases that were once believed to be caused by character flaws or dangerous lifestyles.

Yet in the United States, Szalavitz writes, “…most American treatment providers blame perfection-seeking parents and the media's idealization of hollow-cheeked actresses for eating disorders….” Although when models like Kate Moss state that “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” and then Time magazine actually puts it in print; it is difficult to believe that attitude has no affect on impressionable young girls.

Nevertheless, imagine the relief this news brings to American victims of anorexia who have tortured themselves with guilt thinking, why do I behave like this and why can’t I stop? And the parents who blame themselves thinking, I caused this by trying to be perfect: I expected good grades, I was too neat, I exercised or dieted too much.

However, in Szalavitz article, Dr. Walter Kaye, director of the eating disorders program at the University of California, San Diego, claims "We are where autism was 20 years ago. There were the same discussions about the mother causing kids to be autistic, and most of the theory and treatment was based on that,….I think that anorexia is as biological as autism. It's just 20 years behind in terms of research.”

The similarities between autism and anorexia that the Maudsley researchers found, Szalavitz reports, “…both anorexic and autistic patients have a tendency to behave obsessively and suffer from rigid ways of thinking. Tic disorders, which commonly affect people with autism, are found in 27% of people with severe anorexia. And in both conditions, patients have difficulty …changing course mentally.” And severely restricting calories only exacerbates these predispositions.

With these finding, a new method of therapy has been created that has been researched since the late eighties and is called the Maudsley method. This method no longer blames the family. In fact, the family becomes a central part of the patient’s therapy helping her overcome her genetic predisposition.

In Szalavitz’s article, Janet Treasure, researcher and head of the Maudsley Eating Disorders Unit, explains that “The new Maudsley model of individual treatment includes intervention focused on traits such as perfectionism and rigidity…. the Maudsley method has also incorporated a new type of cognitive behavioral therapy, based on the autism connection, which aims to broaden the narrow thinking routines of people with anorexia.”

In the United States, there is a group called FEAST started by a mother whose anorexic daughter tried the Maudsley method and succeeded. The group searches for treatments similar to the Maudsley method in the U. S. You can reach them at http://www.feast-ed.org/.

“Verbatim.” Time Dec. 7, 2009: pg: 21.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/features/article2272080.ece ns

Add a CommentComments

There are no comments yet. Be the first one and get the conversation started!

Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Eating Disorders

Get Email Updates

Eating Disorders Guide

HERWriter Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!