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Behav Res Ther. 2013 Jun;51(6):256-65. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2013.01.010. Epub 2013 Feb 27.

Subjective experience of sensation in anorexia nervosa.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center,NC 27710, USA.


The nature of disturbance in body experience in anorexia nervosa (AN) remains poorly operationalized despite its prognostic significance. We examined the relationship of subjective reports of sensitivity to and behavioral avoidance of sensory experience (e.g., to touch, motion) to body image disturbance and temperament in adult women currently diagnosed with AN (n = 20), women with a prior history of AN who were weight restored (n = 15), and healthy controls with no eating disorder history (n = 24). Levels of sensitivity to sensation and attempts to avoid sensory experience were significantly higher in both clinical groups relative to healthy controls. Sensory sensitivity was associated with body image disturbance (r(56) = .51, p < .0001), indicating that body image disturbance increased with increased global sensitivity to sensation. Sensory sensitivity was also negatively and significantly correlated with lowest BMI (r(2) = -.32, p < .001), but not current BMI (r(2) = .03, p = .18), and to the temperament feature of harm avoidance in both clinical groups. We discuss how intervention strategies that address sensitization and habituation to somatic experience via conditioning exercises may provide a new manner in which to address body image disturbance in AN.

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