Body Awareness in Anorexia Nervosa: Disturbances in “Body Image” and “Satiety”

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Patients with anorexia nervosa have been shown previously to display distortions in body image perception. Bruch has postulated that these disturbances as well as disturbances in interoception are meaningfully related to the development of the syndrome. We hypothesized that disturbances in body image, as measured by a distorting photograph technique, and interoception, as measured by a satiety-aversion to sucrose test, should be demonstrable in anorexic patients vs. normal controls. Furthermore, these disturbances should be modifiable by external cues (looking at one's image in a mirror and ingesting isocaloric “high” and “low” calorie connotation meals). We also hypothesized that body image and interoceptive disturbances would be interrelated in the same individuals. Results indicated that patients with anorexia nervosa (N = 26) differed from normal controls (N = 16) in overestimating their body sizes (p = 0.06) and in failing to develop an aversion to the sucrose tastes (p < 0.001). However, neither viewing one's image in a mirror nor ingesting both “high and “low” calorie connotation meals altered body size perception. Intrasubject body size estimates were very stable from week to week for the anorexic subjects (r = +0.75, p < 0.001) but less for the controls (r = +0.45, p < 0.05). The data revealed that overestimation of body size was closely related to the failure to develop an aversion to sucrose tastes in anorexic patients.

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