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Timothy Walsh, M.D., Shares Theory on Compulsive Dieting

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Published on May 7, 2012

Compulsive dieting associated with anorexia nervosa may be a learned habit that becomes ingrained over time and extraordinarily difficult to break. So suggested psychiatrist Timothy Walsh, M.D., at APA's 2012 annual meeting in Philadelphia. Walsh proposed a new conceptual model that attempts to explain why compulsive dieting—despite its potentially deadly consequences—is so remarkably durable. Drawing on learning theory, Walsh suggested that dieting, initially rewarding, becomes a fixed habit that occurs automatically and involves a structured behavioral sequence prone to be elicited by a particular context or stimulus. Walsh said the model helps explain why early intervention with adolescents is more effective, accounts for notable similarities between anorexia nervosa and substance use disorders, and suggests that specific neural circuits are involved.

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