I’ll plead guilty–I’ve thrown around the phrase “brain disorder” in my time, even here on this blog.
But what the hell does this term even MEAN?!?
Here’s the problem: there’s no consensus. Not in the field of eating disorders, not in the field of psychiatry, not in mental health. Obviously, the idea of “brain disorder” means that biology is involved, which, for this trained biochemist anyways, is pretty darn obvious.
In a recent email, my friend Sarah Ravin said this:
I conceptualize it as a disease or disorder that originates in the brain and influences mood, thinking, learning, and/or behavior. So EDs, autism, bipolar disorder, OCD, Alzheimers, and most of the DSM would fall under this category.
To me, “brain disorder” does NOT mean:
- Environment does not play a role in its development
- Environment does not play a role in recovery
- It is 100% biologically based
- It can only be treated by physician or with a pill
- Psychological interventions won’t help
- The patient can’t do anything to influence the outcome
None of the above is true for ANY brain disorder, whether we’re talking about one that is commonly accepted as “biologically based” or not.
In fact, I don’t know of any physical disease or medical condition in which any of the above is true.
I think this is, bar none, the best explaination of what a “brain disorder” is that I have ever read. I think that if professionals can be more clear about what they mean when they say “brain disorder” then people can start understanding and integrating biology into their picture of what eating disorders actually are.
Understanding the biology of EDs has actually left me far more hopeful than any other explanation. No, biology doesn’t mean that I’m hopelessly f*cked, but it does help me approach recovery from a more realistic standpoint.
Even if/when I resolve all of my ED issues, I will remain vulnerable to relapse. That doesn’t mean I will be tortured by AN thoughts, or even have them at all, but that it’s also smart to be cautious.