How Anorexia Affects the Brain

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder that can be defined as self-induced starvation. While most people grasp the fact that eating less will invariably have a weight loss effect on the body, not everyone realizes the effect that anorexia has on the brain. Having a healthy brain is important for a healthy life, as the brain plays a pivotal role in both our physical and mental health. In this article, Canopy Cove, a residential and outpatient treatment program in Florida, would like to explore just a few of the ways that Anorexia affects the brain.

Anorexia Begins in the Brain

Many people who are in the anorexia recovery process describe an “eating disorder voice” that tells them that they’re fat, that being thin is more important than everything else, and that they shouldn’t eat. The extreme willpower not to eat is a function of the brain, and the initial pleasure that a person feels when they are successful at controlling their body releases a brain chemical called dopamine which triggers a sensation of reward for success. Giving in to these behaviors even just a little bit at the beginning can set up a deeply entrenched brain pathway that becomes very difficult to change or eliminate, requiring you to get help to turn the pattern around.

Anorexia Affects the Brain in Physical Ways

Reduced food intake to the stomach means that the whole body is going to be getting less nutrition. The cells of the body are very good at making their own materials to perform their jobs, but they need to have the building blocks to begin with, and that comes from your diet. The brain is made of a complex network of neurons, and if these neurons start to experience a reduction in the basic building materials that they need, you’ll start to experience negative consequences. The effect on the brain can be anything from stunted brain development to reduction of the brain’s gray matter the longer you’ve had an eating disorder.

In addition, Anorexia can deprive the brain of its ability to release hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers that go out to every part of your body, sending signals that instruct various systems what to do in order to maintain your delicate equilibrium.

Reduced food intake to the body also weakens your heart, which in turn pumps blood more feebly through your circulatory system. This leads to the brain getting less oxygen than it needs, meaning that you’ll have brain fog and difficulty thinking clearly.

Anorexia Affects the Brain in Psychological Ways

When your brain continues telling you that you’re fat despite having a low body mass index or dangerously low weight, you are simply being lied to. The research is not clear whether some of the psychological things (like anxiety and depression) that tend to come along with Anorexia are a cause or an effect of Anorexia. However, the medical community agrees that Anorexia is a mental disorder.

What You Can Do About It

If you have anorexia, or if you have a loved one who does, contact the residential and outpatient program at Canopy Cove for eating disorder recovery treatment.