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Why Does Gender Influence Eating Disorders?

Last year, I wrote a story debunking the myth that being thinner is healthier for you. Among the unhealthy reasons people are underweight: Eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia, that are epidemics, particularly among young women. So why women are more prone to these problems -- by a factor of 10 -- than men?

The problem may have to do with the way women process information, according to a Japanese study. The female brain responds differently than a man's, according to researchers, when exposed to certain words concerned with body image.

Scientists exposed 26 people (equally divided by gender) to a series of tests in which they were asked to read and score two sets of words.

  • Unpleasant words that described body image
  • A set of "neutral" words

At the same time, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to measure which parts of the brain became active during the experiment. Unpleasant words stimulated the amydgala, a sector of the brain that becomes active when one feels threatened, in women. However, in men, this part of the brain showed little activity during the tests. Instead, they used a part of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex, commonly associated with rationalizing information.

For men and women who are underweight and trying to gain weight, determining your unique nutritional type is an essential step. Your nutritional type lets you know how readily you convert excess carbohydrate to fat or how able you are to digest protein efficiently.

It is important to resolve the underlying emotional challenges that are causing this behavior. The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) may be an effective tool for resolving this issue.

BBC News January 5, 2005

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