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Is calling an eating disorder a brain problem a problem?

Posted Nov 12 2010 3:56am
Personally, my reason for using the term "brain disorders" is not political, strategic, or contrarian.
I use the term because the leading experts have acknowledged it as true. If the truth isn't comfortable for people, yet,  it doesn't make it less important to state.

Eating disorders may turn out to be caused by any number of things - no one really knows - but we do know where the problem is: the brain. This is misunderstood by some to mean that it can only be treated with a pill, or that it can't be treated, or that environment doesn't matter. This is a misunderstanding of the TERM, certainly, but not a reason to stop using it. The brain interacts with the environment: it acts on the world around it and is affected by the world around it. Thoughts change the brain and the brain's function and chemistry changes thoughts - and emotions.

I'm so grateful for the generosity of the head of the NIMH for clarifying this issue a bit in a letter to a parent (and volunteer for AED and F.E.A.S.T.): Dr Insel addresses the "brain disorder" term.

The battle over this term isn't just about stigma. It is about how much of this illness comes from social and personal environment and how much is not. I happen to think social and personal environment have a pretty small part to play in causing the illness but a significant one in supporting recovery. Others think if we changed society and relationships that would prevent eating disorders. That's an active debate we should be having.

But the debate ought not be about where the problem is. The problem is in the brain.
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