Scientists and researchers have no definitive answer about what causes anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by a strong, sometimes life-threatening, desire to avoid food. Many theories attribute its development to body image issues, while other studies have linked it to depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other preexisting psychological conditions. A boy in Britain with an unusual eating disorder may provide some insight both into the cause of the disorder and the treatment.
The boy, who is only two years old, has refused all solid foods and almost all liquids since his birth, though he was physically capable of ingesting food without problems. As a result, his growth and development were stunted and a feeding tube had to be implanted to provide him with sufficient nutrition. Convinced that the problem was psychological, doctors at an Austrian hospital, working with the parents, tried a controversial technique of starving the child into eating. The tube was removed and the boy was surrounded with food, as well as by people who helped encourage him to eat. The theory is that the psychological problem cannot be resolved unless the affected person actively wants to eat.
At first, the boy ate nothing, but during the course of the three-week treatment he made progress. He began with water and progressed to milk, yogurt and finally to solid foods. His delighted parents say that he is now eating progressively more every day.
Is this a treatment that will work for everyone afflicted by anorexia? Probably not, but this case does provide support for the notion that, for at least some people, the problem has a psychological root and that it is not something untreatable.