Perhaps the most puzzling symptom of anorexia nervosa -- a disorder that tends to occur in young women -- is the refusal to eat, resulting in extreme weight loss. While most people have a great deal of difficulty in dieting and losing weight, particularly if a diet extends over many months or years, individuals with anorexia nervosa can literally diet themselves to death. In fact, this disorder has a very high death rate from starvation. A new study, now online in the journal International Journal of Eating Disorders, sheds light on why these symptoms occur in anorexia nervosa.
This is an extremely important study led by Walter Kaye at UCSD. People with histories of anorexia do not respond to pleasure as others do. The question that remains is whether this anxious relationship with pleasure is innate, or is it "learned" through the experience of the eating disorder. My guess: it's both innate and intensified by the eating disorder. Which means that it can be un-learned to a degree in recovery, but people with histories of anorexia are not likely to become hedonists.