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New Year May Bring New Treatment for Eating Issues

Minimalist dish with apple garnish

Increasing awareness about the importance of embracing all body shapes and sizes may be helping to lessen the overall stigma surrounding issues with eating and weight loss. However, millions still struggle with issues related to food, obesity, and body image on a daily basis. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States experience a clinical eating disorder for some portion of their lives.

Even with treatment centers and organizations devoted to helping and supporting those who deal with bulimia, anorexia, body dysmorphia, compulsive eating, obesity, and other issues, researchers and clinicians are aware of the need for new, innovative approaches to recovery, and neuroscience is playing a crucial role in the latest wave of treatment.

Recent research has examined the effectiveness of deep brain stimulation technology in treating anorexia nervosa and obesity. Deep brain stimulation technology has already proven successful in treating Parkinson’s disease and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Specific areas of the brain have been identified as being involved in the obsessive overeating and under-eating characteristic of obesity and anorexia, respectively (DeSarbo, 2013; Wood, 2013). The electrodes used in deep brain stimulation target these areas, thereby influencing the eating habits of those receiving the treatment (Wood, 2013).

Two studies conducted in 2013 showed this method to be effective in increasing body mass in women with anorexia nervosa, and it is believed that the opposite result—a reduction in body mass—is attainable in those with obesity (Wood). Additional studies are currently in progress to further explore this theory.

In an article published in a recent issue of Making Connections, a NEDA publication, Dr. Jeffrey DeSarbo, a psychiatrist based in New York who specializes in eating and food issues, shares his thoughts on the role of “brain language” in those who experience food-related issues (2013). “When someone suffers from an eating disorder, we know from what they tell us and the things they do that their thoughts are overwhelmingly distressful, all-consuming, and often distorted,” he writes.

The hope is that past and current research involving neuroimaging technology will continue to expose the neurological and biological factors that influence the thoughts and behavior surrounding eating disorders.

At the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals (iaedp) Symposium in 2014, which will be held in St. Petersburg, Florida, from February 26 to March 2, keynote speakers will discuss “the integration of science, psychology, and spirituality” in treating eating issues. While neuroscience is viewed as significant in the future of psychological medicine and will be thoroughly discussed, mindfulness practices will also be emphasized as being of the utmost importance in utilizing any treatment methodology (Lomelino, 2013).


  1. DeSarbo, J. (2013). The language of the brain. Making Connections, Vol. 6, Issue 4. National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved from http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/sites/default/files/MakingConnections/Making_Connections_v6.4.pdf
  2. Lomelino, S. (2013, December 26). 2014 iaedp Symposium presents new insight on neuroscience in the world of psychotherapy. PR Newswire. Retrieved from http://media.prnewswire.com/en/jsp/latest.jsp?resourceid=7405039&access=EH
  3. National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Get the facts on eating disorders. Retrieved from http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-facts-eating-disorders
  4. Wood, S. (2013, November 29). Getting to the root of eating disorders. dailyRx. Retrieved from http://www.dailyrx.com/deep-brain-stimulation-studied-treatment-obesity-and-anorexia

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  • KS December 31st, 2013 at 2:25 PM #1

    I have a friend whose son is actually struggling very hard with bulimia right now and it is devastating the whole family. I am going to share this with her because I know that they are looking for hope and answers anywhere they can find it.

  • Corrine January 2nd, 2014 at 4:14 AM #2

    There are families who are looking for all sorts of answers, even when they are outside of the proverbial box, so I am sure that if this is shown to have some success there will be many looking for providers who can offer these services and help their loved ones who struggle with body image and eating disorders. But I am also assuming that this would continue to be done with some sort of ongoing counseling, because there is obviously something going on within this person that would have gotten them to this point.

  • hannah January 3rd, 2014 at 4:14 AM #3

    Anorexia is the only disorder specifically mentioned but there is so many others in the eating disorder spectrum that I wonder if those would receive the same outcome resulys. This is something that can so quickly take a devastating toll on the body, all for someone seeking perfection in a way that can be so disastrous to the mond as well as the body. I sincerely hope that this is a treatment step that can eventually lead to help for a lot of people because I know that there are probably more people than we even realize who need help with disordered eating patterns, many of whom need help but have no idea either how to get started or who to even ask to begin for help.

  • Leila January 4th, 2014 at 11:52 AM #4

    It makes me feel good to know that this does not go forgotten and that there are those who are working diligently to find a way to help those who are the most afflicted with this issue. You see, I lost a sister to bulimia and anorexi, no matter what we did or how hard we tried, it was never enough to save her from the damage that she did to herself. I think that there was a small part of her that wanted to get better but there was an even bigger part that that desire to heal couldn’t tounch and she just wasn’t strong enough to break through that and neither were any of us. I don’t blame anyone, I think that all of us did the best that we could with what we knew, but I think that families today will know more and be able to do even more to help save their loved ones. This is a terrible way to watch someone die, to waste away, and to know that mostly that is what they are willing to happen via their behavior.

  • Steph January 6th, 2014 at 10:48 AM #5

    There have to be people out there wondering if this is going to be covered by their insurance?

  • Jenifer Knighton January 27th, 2014 at 8:57 AM #6

    One day we will all be free! Free free free Never give up hope!

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