Publish at February 08 2022 Updated February 17 2022

Body distortion and anorexia nervosa [Thesis].

When the brain has difficulty perceiving who it is

Silhouette of a body on which are added the contours of an obese and anorexic belly

Truths are illusions that we have forgotten they are

Friedrich Nietzsche - Philosopher (1844-1900)

It can be difficult to put oneself in another's shoes. There are many cognitive biases that help explain some of these difficulties. Nevertheless, in some cases, reality itself seems to be altered and it becomes tricky to conceive of the other person's perception. But what about when it comes to our own perception?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a restriction of food intake over a prolonged period of time, resulting in significant weight loss of the subject associated with a certain satisfaction in losing weight and a phobia of gaining weight. Subjects have an altered self-perception giving them the impression of being permanently overweight and limiting their ability to consider the severity of their thinness.

How are these alterations in self-perception formed? How is this maintained? This is what Dewi Guardia seeks to understand in her dissertation entitled "Body representation and anorexia nervosa: from sensory integration to action: a neurocognitive approach to the phenomenon of body distortion."

Why read this dissertation

The author invites us through her research to better understand body representation and its study. Dewi Guardia's narration and perspective on the articles make this manuscript playful, clear, and accomplished.

The whole constitutes an accessible work revealing surprising and sometimes intriguing methods of study.


"Everyone agrees today that there is a disorder of body representation in anorexia nervosa, and that special attention should be paid to it, both diagnostically and in terms of prognosis and therapy.

The ambition of this thesis is to try to understand a little better the mechanisms underlying these body distortions by proposing to enrich the physiopathological discussion with a neuropsychological view. It aims to explain one of the stages of the process of anorectic decompensation based on the elaboration and maintenance of false beliefs in relation to the profound changes in the body experience. But, before going any further, it is important to define what we mean by body representations and which dimensions we propose to explore. The writing plan of this thesis was elaborated in this sense.

The first part of this work will aim at removing the ambiguities between the notions of sensation, perception and knowledge which participate in an integrative way to the elaboration of a multitude of representations of the body. Thus, the representations of the body engaged in action will be distinguished from the representations of the body involved in more complex cognitive operations.

The second part of this work will focus on the situated body. We will then address notions such as the definition of spatial coordinates, the use of spatial referentials in order to interact with one's environment, and will attempt to evaluate the existence of perturbations of spatial cognitions in anorexia nervosa, by means of the experimental paradigm of perception of orientations.

The third part of this work will focus on the acting body. We will then attempt to evaluate the repercussions of the patients' bodily distortions on the anticipation and realization of action involving the bodily dimensions, and on the simulation of action carried out by oneself or by others.

Finally, the last chapter will set out the elements of general discussion that follow from the results obtained in the different experiments reported. It will also develop some of the perspectives that this work gives rise to both from a research and therapeutic point of view."

What we learn

The research work carried out by the author highlights a significant number of observations relating to the process of body perception alteration in subjects with anorexia nervosa.

Some of these observations seem to show an inability for some subjects to actualize their body representation. It was already possible to observe significant body distortions during massive weight loss in some patients managed for severe obesity. Thus, despite their measurable weight loss, these patients still felt that they were obese.

The author proposes that this distortion of body representation is the consequence of a phase shift due to a nonactualization between the actual body representation and the one the central nervous system projects to the subject.

A Questioning

Dewi Guardia reveals some of the underlying mechanisms associated with anorexia nervosa. In it, we discover how the body's perception of itself can become distorted by various factors. We thus realize that it can be sometimes more difficult to put ourselves in our own place than in someone else's.

What about you? Are you in tune with yourself?

Good reading!!

Work done at the University of Lille 2 and at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Fonctionnelles et Pathologies (LNFP) within the doctoral school Biology and Health : ED 446 (University of Lille 2) (Lille - France).



Dewi Guardia. Body representation and anorexia nervosa: from sensory integration to action: a neurocognitive approach to the body distortion phenomenon. Human Medicine and Pathology. University of Law and Health - Lille II, 2012. French. ⟨NNT: 2012LIL2S034⟩. ⟨tel-00828513⟩




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