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Friday, 27 April, 2001, 23:36 GMT 00:36 UK
'Uneven fat' hits anorexic fightback
Anorexia sufferer
Anorexia nervosa affects mainly girls and young women
Anorexics could have their recovery harmed by gaining weight unevenly, according to a new study.

The study by researchers found that women suffering anorexia nervosa who were putting on weight, tended to have a disproportionate amount of body fat on their abdomen and torso.

Experts are concerned that uneven distribution of fat could further undermine sufferers' perception of their own bodies and so hamper recovery.

Anorexia nervosa is a psychiatric illness, mainly affecting girls and young women, that culminates in severe under-nutrition, with as many as one-fifth of sufferers dying.

'Body image'

Psychiatrists recognise that patients' self-perceived "body image" is an important part of successful recovery and think the pattern of regained weight may have a psychological impact.

The research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, studied 27 women with anorexia nervosa in an outpatient recovery program.

Of the 20 patients who gained weight, body fat was increased to 37% in the torso or trunk compared to 34% of the "normal-weight" control group.

The researchers believed that the accumulation of fat on the torso compared to the limbs may be connected to an excess of the chemical cortisol.

Psychological connotations

Anorexia expert Laurel Mayer said disproportionate fat regain in the abdomen appeared to be caused by biological reasons but would have "psychological connotations" for anorexic patients which could hamper their recovery.

Future research will look at whether skewed weight distribution happens only in early recovery or could persist, perhaps causing heart problems.

During the nine-month study, some of the women were given oestrogen in the form of the contraceptive pill.

But there were no differences in weight gain and body fat distribution patterns as a result of oestrogen use.

Steve Bloomfield, of the UK's Eating Disorders Association, told BBC News Online: "It is an interesting report - body image can be so important to people recovering from an eating disorder."

No surprise

But he said further research on a bigger sample would be necessary.

Professor Hubert Lacey, head of the St George's Hospital Medical School eating disorders unit, said he was not surprised by the findings.

He said it had been known for some time that regained weight would initially concentrate before being redistributed over a longer period of time.

Professor Lacey said the idea that uneven weight might hamper recovery was interesting but added: "Body image disturbance is primary to anorexia.

"Their terror about weight gain is such that they feel distressed about weight gain in any case."

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See also:

14 Apr 00 | Health
Gene theory on eating disorders
31 Aug 98 | Health
Fat strikes back
12 Oct 00 | Health
Women 'obsessed by their bodies'
02 Jun 00 | Health
Eating disorders 'hit men harder'
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