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uni'wissen 01-2012_ENG

frenzy once in a while, exercise to burn off the calories again, go on diets, and feel bad when the scale reveals that they’ve put on a kilogram or two. “But healthy women get such feelings ­under control faster and don’t let them influence their entire state of mind,” underlines Tuschen- Caffier. “Women with eating disorders, on the other hand, have a fragile sense of self-worth that is highly dependent on the fluctuations in their weight. They don’t find any other strategies to feel better again.” In the case of some forms of anorexia, for instance, girls and young women have a distorted perception of themselves: They see themselves in the mirror with a chubby belly and flabby thighs – although even pants in chil­ dren’s sizes won’t stay on their hips. Scientists call this condition body dysmorphic disorder. Bathing Suit and Eye Tracker What do women with anorexia or bulimia actu­ ally see when they look at themselves in the ­mirror? How do they process this information about their body? These are a few of the ques­ tions that the psychologist posed in her research. Along with her team she has developed a new approach to studying body dysmorphic disorders. The group included both conscious and uncon­ scious processes in their analysis. This approach enables a comprehensive strategy that takes into account human qualities at different levels – “even those that humans cannot provide an answer to because they are not subject to conscious control.” In one of their studies, for example, anorexia patients and healthy women were asked to put on a skin-colored bathing suit and look at them­ selves in the mirror. On their head they wore a helmet with an eye tracker attached to it, a device that records eye movements. While doing this, they were requested to say everything that came into their head – scientists refer to this method as “thinking out loud.” The experiment lasted three minutes – taxing enough for a person with an eating disorder. The result: The healthy ­women’s thinking out loud did not just revolve around their bodies. Rather, they also thought about everyday banalities: “This is boring.” “I have to go shopping later.” The thoughts of the anorexic test subjects, on the other hand, ­remained focused almost exclusively on their bodies: “How ugly I am.” “My belly is so fat.” The data recorded by the eye tracker also confirms this fixation with supposed external defects. “Women with eating disorders look longer and more frequently at parts of their body they are not satisfied with, particularly the classical prob­ lem zones stomach, thighs, buttocks,” summa­ rizes Tusche-Caffier. The healthy test subjects, on the other hand, spent the same amount of time looking at parts of their body they were ­satisfied with as at parts they were dissatisfied with. “That is a nice pattern; it’s exactly what we are trying to achieve in therapy.” Learning how to stand oneself: Brunna Tuschen-Caffier describes this as a central goal of a therapeutic treatment. She does not want to get them to “put on rose-colored glasses,” to suggest to them that they are beautiful although they do not feel that way themselves. Instead, No appetite: Patients with eating disorders are often afraid of eating a normal meal (scene reenacted). Nutritional training can help them to adopt good eat- ing habits. Photo: Kunz “Combining fundamental research with ­therapy research is a matter of great personal importance for me.” 30