How do eating disorders develop? And how can they be researched? We spoke to psychologist Annika Lutz about the current research into a widespread problem.
Dr Lutz, in your PhD thesis (funded through FNR’s AFR programme), you investigated anorexia in young women. What did you discover?
“These women experience a strong distortion of the perception of their bodies. Even after losing a lot of weight, they still feel too big.
“I, for example, conducted a study where I measured the brainwaves of the participants while they were looking at a picture of themselves – after just 160 milliseconds of looking at the photo, they showed clear differences when compared to healthy persons.
“This short space of time is an interval during which the brain analyses very basic aspects of the photo, such as contrast and brightness. The perception of the own body is fundamentally changed in people suffering from anorexia.”
How does this disruption come about? Are there specific risks?
“There are many factors that play a role here: genetic influence; eating and digestive troubles as a child; but also personality traits, for example perfectionism.
“At the end it is a very complex pattern of risk factors in the individual cases, and it varies strongly.”
Which role does society play? Are there more eating disorders today than there used to be?
“Apart from the listed risk factors, the slimness ideal and the societal beauty ideals also play a role.
“In principle, we assume that eating disorders became more frequent and widespread in the second half of the last century. But it is difficult to get reliable data on the development of eating disorders. One reason is for example that the criteria used to diagnose an eating disorder have not existed for that long, and another is that not everyone with an eating disorder has chosen to receive treatment.”
Where does an eating disorder begin?
“As soon as you notice that it has a big influence on your mood. People affected by it withdraw from the people around them, loose interests and begin to structure their whole day around eating and the compensation. Of course we also have official criteria, listed in the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Eating Disorders’. This catalogue also includes bulimia and binge eating disorders.”
Is this also something you are researching?
“We are just starting a promising new study on bulimia – we want to find out which effects negative emotions have on eating behaviour. In the study we will measure brainwaves and investigate how food items are perceived in particular mood settings.”
When will you start the experiments?
“At the moment, we are searching for female participants over 18 years of age – healthy participants as controls, and women with bulimia. This study will be very interesting, because through the measurements of the brainwaves we can observe processes that lie beyond conscious thinking. Any interested parties can get in touch with us if they would like to participate.”
If you would like to take part in this study, contact Dr Annika Lutz on firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. +352 46 66 44 9682.
This article was originally published on science.lu in German and French on 2 January 2017.
The project, EMO-EAT, is supported by an FNR CORE grant until 2018.
Excessive use of fertilisers in agriculture has led to nitrogen pollution, and calls for bio substitutes are getting louder. PhD candidate Bella Tsachidou from Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) gathers scientific evidence on the benefits of biogas residues and their suitability as biofertilisers, while providing support for the modification of nitrogen-policies on European and global level.
Eating disorders affect up to 5% of people. At the University of Luxembourg, Dr Annika Lutz and Lynn Erpelding study the brain mechanisms that help form body image, and want to understand how eating disorders develop. Using a multidimensional approach, the team’s ultimate goal is to improve treatment for people suffering from eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa.
Growing up in Botswana and Zimbabwe, Nathasia Mudiwa Muwanigwa did not see science as a career option. Fast forward a few years: Nathasia is studying Parkinson’s disease as part of her PhD at the LCSB at the University of Luxembourg, and has co-founded a STEM initiative that was featured in Forbes.
Noémie Catherine Engel has just begun her researcher journey – and she has found her niche already: As part of her AFR PhD at the University of Bath, the Luxembourg national investigates the evolution of sex role traits in a small shorebird species in Cape Verde.
When Dr. Irina Burlacu completed her AFR PhD thesis on the tax and benefit system for cross border workers in Belgium and Luxembourg, she asked herself: Now that I have spent years on this research, how can I best communicate it? The answer: translating the research outcome into a board game combining income and tax levels from 41 countries with country knowledge – ‘Mobility Era: Play Your Taxes!’.
For each Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, the FNR runs a Call for promising young researchers with a connection to Luxembourg to attend. For the 2019 Lindau Meeting, dedicated to physics, Hannah Rana, PhD candidate in Space Cryogenics at Oxford University had this rare opportunity. Hannah shares her highlights – from speaking to all 39 Nobel Laureates in attendance, including Donna Strickland; realising the importance of science communication; feeling inspired, and much more.
Splitting her time between the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) and company LuxSpace as part of an Industrial Fellowship, Postdoc Ramona Pelich uses data from earth observation satellites to improve maritime surveillance and flood hazard monitoring.
Are creative people better at regulating emotions, and are there cultural differences? This is one of the questions Henderika (Herie) de Vries wants to answer. Having already discovered that cultural differences impact the creative potential of children, the Dutch-Luxembourgish national hopes to understand more aspects of how our cultural circumstances can influence our capacity for creative thinking.