Expert warns size zero leads to 'famine then feast' eating disorder

A leading British expert on eating disorders has warned that the current obsession with size-zero in the fashion industry is encouraging women to 'famine then feast'.

Professor Janet Treasure from the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, says the size-zero culture in the fashion industry is damaging not only to the general public but also to the models themselves.

Professor Treasure says animal studies have shown that starvation followed by bingeing on highly palatable foods, such as burgers or chocolate, could alter the way that the brain responds to food.

Professor Treasure who is the chief medical advisor for the eating disorders charity, 'Beat' says not only does the fashion industry’s obsession with thinness put models at a high risk of developing eating disorders, but it also fosters imitation among the general public.

Professor Treasure says 'famine then feast' is an eating disorder where a cycle is set up when a diet is broken by the attraction of highly palatable foods, and a pattern known as "binge priming" begins.

Professor Treasure says studies on animals, which simulated periods of self-denial followed by exposure to highly palatable foods, led to binge eating and to a susceptibility to addictive behaviours - after a period of food restriction, when animals are intermittently exposed to highly palatable food, they significantly overeat.

She says this pattern continues when their weight is restored and the tendency to over consume or 'binge' when exposed to highly palatable foods remains several months after the period of binge priming.

In humans binge priming caused by irregular dieting and/or extreme food restriction, interspersed with intermittent consumption of snacks and other highly palatable food, might lead in adolescence to persistent eating problems.

Professor Treasure says people exposed to binge priming may also be more prone to substance misuse.

Researchers Elizabeth Wack and Marion Roberts say models were put at serious risk because of the culture of thinness in the fashion industry which possibly explains the increase in eating disorders seen in women born in the last half of the 20th century and may also contribute to the increase in obesity.

The researchers have called for a greater focus on reducing obsessive dieting and poor eating habits among young people.

A size-zero indicates a 22in waist the same as the average eight-year-old.

The research is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

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