Until now anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder which can cause life threatening complications, has been thought to include a fear of gaining weight but researchers say that may not actually be the case after the results of a recent study. The results of this study were surprising, and they suggest that the pleasure of losing weight rather than fear of gaining pounds may be a driving factor behind this disorder. There are three criteria that are typically used to diagnose this eating disorder: 1) food intake restriction that causes weight loss, 2) a body or weight perception which is distorted, and 3) a fear of gaining weight or becoming fat which is intense. During the study researchers examined the third criteria, and determined that pleasure of becoming thin may be a driving factor rather than a fear of getting fat.
Phillip Gorwood, M.D., Ph.D., led the research team which performed the study on anorexia nervosa. According to Gorwood “When research is going nowhere, 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.” Study participants were shown pictures of people in various weight categories, from thin to obese, and they underwent a skin conductance test to measure their rate of sweating when they viewed the photos. Both the group with the eating disorder and the healthy group had no reaction to pictures of overweight individuals, but the group with anorexia nervosa did have a reaction to photos of thin people while the healthy individuals did not.