Consultant Psychologist, Dr Barbara Pearlman has pointed out that it is often a mistake to place the emphasis on the symptom (food – too much or too little), rather than the cause. Therefore, standard psychiatric treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can actually be unhelpful. One of the most interesting points that Dr Pearlman makes in her article is that people with eating disorders cannot ‘grow up’, the reason being that instead of dealing with issues in a cerebral or thoughtful fashion, the brain by-passes the signal to the body instead and this results in a more basic reaction manifested as; “I want food”, or “I want to throw up”.
Dr Pearlman describes the development of the brain, and how in patients with eating disorders inappropriate pathways can be developed;
“Those young people who already have weakened executive functions find that once they hit adolescence they are really at a loss to understand their emotional environment. They have relied on the minds of others and have tremendous difficulty in discovering their own minds. If we do not know what we feel, it is very difficult to know who we are, or what our opinions are. It is at this point that anxiety becomes abnormally raised, shutting down the weakened emotional pathway to the planning, reality and symbolic language part of the brain and opening up the body pathway. The more we use a pathway the stronger it becomes; conversely the unused pathways weaken”.
The purpose of the new treatment is to open up the symbolic pathway and reduce the use of the body pathway.