Howard Steiger, PhD, both a psychologist treating patients and a researcher, is the Director of the Eating Disorders Program (EDP). He wants research to be so integrated into treatment at the EDP that there will always be a “race between new research findings and treatment changes.” Upon admission to the EDP, patients are asked whether they want to participate in research projects. There is almost unanimous consent because they feel good about helping future patients :

“It was amazing to see how everybody in this place works together to try to make things better for people with eating disorders. Knowing what it’s like to have one, I really felt good to take part in research projects”. – Julie, treated at the Douglas’ Eating Disorders Program.
Only by testing different interventions and monitoring patients’ responses to them can we know what therapies are effective. This leads to changes in the way clinicians practice.

A really major change in thinking has been brought about by research findings showing that eating disorders depend a lot on heredity—on genes! Rather than seeing people who develop an eating disorder
as having some kind of “psychological weakness,” or blaming families for their children’s eating problems, we understand that people develop eating disorders because they have genetic susceptibilities that place them at risk—especially to the effects of dieting in a culture that pressures us all to diet.

Not accidentally, another research project at the EDP examines the effectiveness of a provincial program aimed at reducing media pressures towards thinness—in which EDP staff have played a major role.

What causes eating disorders?

People treated at the Eating Disorders Program take part in ongoing studies about the relationship between genes and environmental stressors in the development of eating disorders.

Using blood samples, and personal and family history from each patient, the program’s interdisciplinary team has identified genetic factors that put one at-risk for developing an eating disorder and affect one’s response to different treatments.

These genetic factors influence a person’s ability to tolerate developmental stress (e.g. school and family pressures), and this stress, when mixed with the added stress of dieting, can result in eating disorders.

At the same time, the causes of eating disorders are as various as the people who develop them—who can be just about anybody. For some, the cause is genetic mixed with environmental pressures. For others, a chemical change is triggered in the brain by calorie restriction in dieting.

By identifying the cause of the disorder for a specific person, the program can offer individualized care and increase the rate of recovery.

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