Eating disorder behaviors as habits: WHAT?!

Quite a few months ago, I read “Habit learning and anorexia nervosa: A cognitive neuroscience hypothesis,” by Steinglass and Walsh. This research revealed that a person with anorexia nervosa might actually make food decisions from an area of the brain associated with the habit. This may help to explain why it can be so difficult for a person with anorexia to choose different foods even when the person consciously wants to make different choices.

For me, the above research sparked the idea of eating disorder-related behaviors as overall habits. It makes a lot of sense to me! Once a person gets into a routine of dieting, bingeing, purging or exercise, sometimes those actions can shift to feeling unstoppable–a “must do.” Right? At some point, choice can get hijacked by the brain. The action(s) that have been practiced or repeated can become automatic. I think that this might be a helpful way to view eating disorder-related behaviors and the difficult processes of reducing or stopping them.

If you might be struggling with decreasing or ceasing eating disorder-related behaviors and you might be feeling frustrated, take a read!  Instead of seeing yourself as “weak” or “like a failure,” it may actually be that the habit part of your brain may be super strong! And THAT can be used to your benefit…

Link to article – Eating Disorder Behaviors – Tips for Difficult to Break Habits: Recognizing dieting, purging, bingeing, and exercise as habits can be helpful

Steinglass J, Walsh BT. Habit learning and anorexia nervosa: A cognitive neuroscience hypothesis. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2016;39:267–275. doi: 10.1002/eat.20244

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