How do we approach conversation about and attempt to solve the most curious disorder of anorexia? Anorexia nervosa (AN) is characterized by “dramatic reduction of body weight caused by excessive caloric restriction, which is accompanied by physiological, biochemical and behavioral disturbances” . For individuals who are unaffected by the disease, the concept of starving oneself seems foreign. You’d think food is a fundamental need, and our society is one of massive overconsumption and supersizing. Yet, anorexia has the highest fatality rate out of all mental illness . An overwhelming 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies , and 1 out of 10 people with anorexia actually seek treatment . In my opinion, these statistics are alarmingly powerful. But I struggle with how we convey what anorexia is, let alone how do we model anorexia in animals to further acquire knowledge and understanding?
An established revolutionary rodent model used to examine anorexic tendencies is the activity-based anorexia (ABA) model. It characterizes many of the traits associated with anorexia, such as reduced intake of food and the limitation of pleasurable activities. To induce this ABA archetype experimentally, rats receive restricted access to food overtime and are provided unhindered access to a running wheel. Foldi et al. set out to evaluate and induce this microstructure of ABA for further study. Three groups of rats were provided various conditions; one group had normal food access and access to a running wheel, another group was food restricted, and the last group they provided running wheel access and food restrictive diet. Alone, food restriction or access to a running wheel failed to induce the ABA anorexia model in rats. However, a combination of access to exercise and limitation of food intake induces the ABA phenotype in which the rats drastically decreased weight even after normal access to food . The ABA model opens the door to countless research possibilities and generates hope for a future in which we can better target and treat this impossible disease.
But what else can this groundbreaking ABA model shed light on? It’s interesting that our media emphasizes the need to limit our diet and follow countless workout routines to live a “healthy” life style. You pick up any magazine, and what jumps off the page at you is none other than the latest workout plan to cut those pounds, or the newest diet restricting everything but a leafy lettuce. We do this to avoid the possibility of being overweight, and with the obesity epidemic on the rise this has value. But the ABA model shows us that restriction of food and access to exercise can potentially induce anorexia in a portion of rats. In a similar manner, our media’s portrayal of health could also be inducing anorexia in women and men of our society. We must re-evaluate our engrained concept of health and decide whether or not the benefits of continuously promoting extreme diet and exercise outweigh the harmful potential of inducing anorexia.
- Harris EC, Barraclough B (1998). Excess mortality of mental disorder. Br J Psychiatry 173: 11-53. .
- Eating Disorder Statistics & Research. Retrieved from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com
- 11 Facts About Body Image. Retrieved from https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts
- 5 Facts About Anorexia Nervosa. Retrieved from https://www.orlandorecovery.com
- Foldi, C.J., Milton, L.K., Oldfield, B.J. (2017). The Role of Mesolimbic Reward Neurocircuitry in Prevention and Rescue of the Activity-Based Anorexia (ABA) Phenotype in Rats. Neuropsychopharmacology, 1-9
- “Skinny Back” picture from: http://crosswinds.org/family-counseling/in-home-family-counseling/eating-disorders/anorexia/
- “Workout” picture from: https://greatist.com/fitness/safe-to-work-out-twice
- “Diet Food Plate” picture from: http://www.weightzonefactor.com/blog/the-16-word-diet-how-to-manage-portion-control/