Psychological Pressure Lead To Eating Disorders

One of the main reasons for children indulging in rampant eating disorders is because they are in some kind of mental pressure or the other. Read on to find out more.      

Eating disorders is one of the most common most people; children as well as adults have to handle during some point of time in their life. Health food is never attractive, but that is the not the only kind of eating disorder that people suffer from. They may over-eat, or they may eat at very irregular intervals, or they may also not eat at all for several days at a stretch. These are all examples of eating disorders, which leads to such diseases such as anorexia and even obesity.  The team at www.newspsychology.com has found out the main reasons why children may resort to stress eating-

  • Peer pressure in school is one of the main reasons why kids have eating disorders.
  • They may also do so when they have a disturbed family
  • Eating disorders may also occur because of psychological pressure from other parts of their life, for examples, expectation from their parents to achieve academic excellence, etc.

Remedy For Eating Disorders

This kind of disorder is especially seen in kids and teenagers. They are under a lot of social pressure, form their family as well as their friends. This is because it is time when they are beginning to learn serious things, and also the time when they are getting increasing social exposure. This sort of double pressure may lead to problems like over-eating or not eating at all. It is important to keep them in an emotionally stable environment, so that they are able to eat properly, at regular intervals, and ingest their food. They may also need psychological help to get themselves to develop regular eating habits, because otherwise, it may manifest itself adversely. 

Understanding The Psychology Of Eating Disorders

Several children, as well as adults suffer from eating disorders, it is important to understand the complex psychology behind it, so that the treatment of the same is speedy and spot-on.

Eating disorders are seen in people of all ages, and all genders. However, the reasons why they usually develop these eating disorders are different. It might be a childhood trauma which leads to improper eating habits, or it might also be a self-image problem. Our studies have found that mostly females develop this sort of eating disorder. However, they are also prompt to get some sort of treatment for it, which is not the case of males who develop eating disorders. In some cases of negligent upbringing, a bad eating habit may become a permanent condition which manifests itself in the form of eating disorders.

Types of Eating Disorders

There are essentially 3 types of eating disorders-

  • Bulimia nervosa, where people eat, but then somehow dispel the food they eat from their body
  • Anorexia nervosa which is purely related to self image, where the person feels that they are too fat, even when they are underweight, and refuse to eat
  • Binge eating disorder which is what most people have, where they eat at irregular intervals and they gain excess weight

All these conditions have to be managed with care, because they are all triggered or associated with some sort of psychological anomaly. In fact, the eating disorder leads to more erratic and irrational behavior, because they are unable to control their weight, irrespective of whether they are overweight or underweight. When they are allowed to survive and pass their days in a health environment, it has been seen by our research team, that their eating disorders automatically start to dissipate. 

Is long-term weight loss possible after menopause?

Many people can drop pounds quickly in the early phases of a diet, but studies have found that it is difficult to keep the weight off in the long term. For post-menopausal women, natural declines in energy expenditure could make long-term weight loss even more challenging. A new study finds that in post-menopausal women, some behaviors that are related to weight loss in the short term are not effective or sustainable for the long term. Interventions targeting these behaviors could improve long-term obesity treatment outcomes.

The research is published in the September issue of Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Lead investigator Bethany Barone Gibbs, PhD, University of Pittsburgh Department of Health and Physical Activity, explains that a number of factors work against long-term weight loss. "Not only does motivation decrease after you start losing weight, there are physiological changes, including a decreased resting metabolic rate. Appetite-related hormones increase. Researchers studying the brain are now finding that you have enhanced rewards and increased motivation to eat when you've lost weight." Combined with the natural energy expenditure decline in women following menopause, it is extremely difficult for older women to lose weight and maintain weight loss.

Traditional behavioral treatments for obesity, focused on caloric intake, have had poor long-term results. The investigators sought to determine if changes in eating behaviors and selected foods were associated with weight loss at six and 48 months in a group of overweight post-menopausal women. A total of 508 women were randomized to either a Lifestyle Change group or a Health Education group. The Lifestyle Change group met regularly with nutritionists, exercise physiologists, and psychologists throughout the study. Their goals were to reduce fats and caloric intake, increase consumption of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, and participate in regular moderate exercise. The Health Education Group was offered seminars by health professionals on general women's health, but not specifically weight loss.

Investigators found that the eating behaviors associated with weight loss at six months were eating fewer desserts and fried foods, drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages, eating more fish, and eating at restaurants less. After four years, they found that eating fewer desserts and drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages continued to be associated with weight loss or maintenance. Eating fewer desserts and drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages were also related to long-term weight loss. However, eating more fruits and vegetables and less meat and cheese emerged as additional important predictors for long-term weight loss. Eating at restaurants declined at 48 months whether or not subjects lost weight. Dr. Barone Gibbs speculates that this may have been related to economic factors and not relevant to the study.

Dr. Barone Gibbs explains that strategies such as eating fewer fried foods may not be sustainable for the long term. "People are so motivated when they start a weight loss program. You can say, 'I'm never going to eat another piece of pie,' and you see the pounds coming off. Eating fruits and vegetables may not make as big a difference in your caloric intake. But that small change can build up and give you a better long-term result, because it's not as hard to do as giving up French fries forever."

The results suggest that decreased consumption of desserts and sugar-sweetened beverages consistently associate with short- and long-term weight loss or maintenance, but increased fruits and vegetables and decreased meat and cheeses are additional factors that may improve long-term weight loss or control. "If the goal is to reduce the burden of obesity, the focus must be on long-term strategies because changes in eating behaviors only associated with short-term weight loss are likely to be ineffective and unsustainable," concludes Dr. Barone Gibbs.


Journal Reference:

  1. Bethany Barone Gibbs, Laura S. Kinzel, Kelley Pettee Gabriel, Yue-Fang Chang, Lewis H. Kuller. Short- and Long-Term Eating Habit Modification Predicts Weight Change in Overweight, Postmenopausal Women: Results from the WOMAN Study. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2012; 112 (9): 1347 DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.06.012

Pro-anorexic bloggers interviewed

A new research study from Indiana University suggests there may be benefits to the controversial activities of "pro-ana" bloggers, the online community for people with eating disorders.

Most of the 33 bloggers from seven countries interviewed for the study, which has just been published in the journal Health Communication, said their writing activities provide a way to express themselves without judgment, which the authors believe can be crucial to their treatment.

"We don't know what are the effects of participating in this community on health," said Daphna Yeshua-Katz, a doctoral student in telecommunications in the IU College of Arts and Sciences. "But we do know that the current therapy for eating disorders is not effective."

"These communities are providing support, albeit supporting an illness that may result in someone's death," added Nicole Martins, an assistant professor of telecommunications at IU. "But until they're ready to go and seek recovery on their own terms, this might actually be a way of prolonging their life, so that they are mentally ready to tackle their recovery process.

"From the outside looking in, this looks like a really disturbing community, but I think that the fact that these women are able to find support from one another and find a place where someone understands what they're going through is a really good thing," Martins added.

They acknowledged that the study findings are different from media coverage and other research about the pro-ana community.

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders in 2010 reported that eating disorders affect more than 11 million people in the United States alone. Anorexics lose between 15 and 60 percent of their body weight and are susceptible to osteoporosis and heart ailments that can lead to death. It is viewed as a mental illness.

Little is known about the "pro-ana" online community because of the closeted and secretive nature of its members. The IU study is believed to be the first one to focus on interviews with the bloggers. Previous research in this area has centered on content analysis of what these people, mostly women with the disorders, are writing.

The researchers reached out to 300 bloggers and received a 10 percent response — a statistically significant response. Both men and women with eating disorders were approached, but only women participated. Participants ranged in age from 15 to 33. Most were attending high school or college, and all lived in countries where anorexia is most common. About two-thirds lived in the United States.

Yeshua-Katz said many bloggers express themselves through song lyrics, music and photos that they call "thinspiration," which are very controversial. Complaints from eating disorder support groups have led Internet service providers to shut down pro-anorexia websites, but the site administrators and bloggers have remained resilient.

"They use the blogs to look for support and understanding, but at the same time, the content that they display is something for us — people who are not sick — very disturbing," she said. "Studies show that people with eating disorders are stigmatized. Therefore these bloggers are looking for a place to vent out and express themselves without judgment of others."

Yeshua-Katz, the lead author on the paper, frequently researches how marginalized people are mediating their stigma through social media.

"The results revealed that the answers to why individuals are attracted to pro-ana sites have little to do with the need to share a broad philosophy or outlook and may stem from the desire simply to belong to a safe community of individuals with similar experiences," the researchers wrote in the study.

Their primary motivation for blogging was to seek social support. Most bloggers started publishing because they did not want to feel alone and were interested in finding others like themselves. They described interactions with family and friends as stressful "because they lack the understanding of their situation, while online they receive support constituted with sympathy, understanding and encouragement."

About half of the bloggers also said self-expression and the need to cope with social stigmas were other motives. When asked to give an example of how blogging might help them cope with stigma, six respondents answered that blogging offers them a different reality.

The majority of the sample reported that blogging about their illness improves their mood, and they found relief through their writing. The support they found was seen as unconditional.

"They receive encouragement when they post about their weight loss success and comfort in bloggers' comments when they fail in such efforts. Moreover, when a user wants to stop self-harm behavior or go into recovery, the community supports her choice too," the researchers explained.

"Our participants perceived the support within their ED community to be stronger than the support they received for their so-called strong ties to their offline life," they said, adding that eight bloggers reported meeting other community members in person.

In medical literature, a patient's decision to find support is seen as a good predictor of compliance and treatment leading to a cure.

Nearly 20 percent of the women interviewed for the study indicated that they were in the process of going through recovery from the illness. One respondent, who was in recovery, said that her blogging activities "gave her the skills to talk about her illness in the recovery process."

Of the 33 women interviewed, 27 defined their eating disorder as a mental illness and six said it was a coping mechanism. Contrary to previous research based on content analysis of the blogs, only three of those interviewed called anorexia a "lifestyle."

"In other words, people living with eating disorders are not purposely making unhealthy or health-compromising decisions. They are trying to find the best way they can to live with this disorder," the researchers wrote.

"I think that's encouraging that a majority don't look at it as a lifestyle," Martins said. "The silver lining is there that if they realize that it's a disease, then maybe they'll eventually seek help for it. But right now this is how they're coping."

While most studies make the claim that pro-ana websites promote and maintain anorexia by sharing tips for weight loss and concealing the disorder, only five bloggers mentioned this as a reason to start their blogs.

"Participants in this research, except for shutting down their blogs, did actively engage in ways to warn their audience about the content and ignored or blocked requests for tips and tricks from what they nicknamed 'wannarexics' — young teenagers who want to become anorexic," the paper said.

Yeshua-Katz and Martins hope their research provides the medical community with greater understanding of the people they are treating. One of the bloggers they spoke to expressed difficulty finding "recovery" blogs and still follows the pro-ana blogs because "it's hard to totally abandon them."

"For example, they were missing a 24-hour support place," Yeshua-Katz said. "We need to see what about (the pro-ana blogs) is drawing people into the community and design blogs for recovery that offer the same kind of useful information so the recovery will work.

"By knowing what they're doing in those blogs, we might be able to find better ways to provide online support," she added.

The paper also highlights a major paradox for the pro-ana community. "They go online to vent out and to relieve stress. But then by having their blog, by having their secret life, it adds another level of stress to their life," Yeshua-Katz said. "There is an information game going on, and it's very intense and stressful because your stigma is unknown."

Ten of the pro-ana bloggers actually produce two blogs — a "healthy" one for family members and friends and another about their eating disorders.

"The fact that disordered eating is such a solitary and isolating experience makes the Internet an ideal place for offering support and advice," the researchers wrote. "The pro-ana community is worth studying in its own right as a social space that affords a style of interaction that would be highly unlikely to be visible in the offline or pre-Internet environment."


Journal Reference:

  1. Daphna Yeshua-Katz, Nicole Martins. Communicating Stigma: The Pro-Ana Paradox. Health Communication, 2012; : 1 DOI: 10.1080/10410236.2012.699889

Reducing pressure on children to eat may help prevent obesity

An educational program for parents helps to reduce pressure on children to eat — which may reduce the child's risk of obesity, reports a study in the September Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, the official journal of the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. The journal is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, a part of Wolters Kluwer Health.

Parents educated in an approach based on "division of responsibility" (DOR) for eating put less pressure on their children to eat certain foods, according to the new research, led by Dr. W. Stewart Agras of Stanford University. The study adds to the evidence that the DOR approach can promote healthy development of appetite and eating behaviors in young children.

Education Takes Pressure off Tots' Eating Behaviors

The study included 62 families with a toddler (aged two to four) considered at high risk of obesity — with at least one parent who was obese or overweight. One group of parents was educated in the DOR concept, which takes a child-development approach to "parent/child feeding interactions." Dr Agras explains, "At the family level parent feeding practices, such as taking control over their child's eating, appear to contribute to childhood overweight."

In the DOR approach, parents take responsibility for providing and serving food, while children are responsible for deciding whether or not to eat and how much to eat. "The primary principle is that crossing parent or child boundaries leads to feeding problems," according to the authors. The other group of parents was assigned to the National Institutes of Health's "We Can" program, which seeks to promote healthy eating and increased physical activity.

At follow-up, parents educated in the DOR approach were putting less pressure on their child to eat, compared to those taught about the "We Can" program. Two parental factors affected the pressure to eat: "disinhibition," reflecting the parents' tendency to overeat, and hunger or food cravings in the parents. Parents who learned about DOR put less pressure on their children to eat, regardless of their own disinhibition or hunger scores.

In contrast, for the "We Can" group, parents with low disinhibition and low hunger scores (that is, less control over eating and lower hunger/cravings) put more pressure on their children. Thus an approach that teaches parents to promote consumption of healthy foods may have actually led to a decrease in positive feeding practices

Parents in the DOR group were less likely to restrict food choices in girls, although not in boys. It may be that parents are more focused on girls' eating patterns, "in line with the greater concern about female weight and shape," the researchers write.

Children whose parents are obese or overweight are at risk of becoming obese themselves, possibly because the family environment reinforces "maladaptive" eating behaviors. There's evidence that parents becoming over-involved in their child's eating behavior — such as taking excessive control over their child's eating — contributes to childhood overweight. Excessive parental control over eating may interfere with the child's perceptions of hunger and feeling full (satiety).

Although the new study is only preliminary, it adds to the evidence that parents taught the DOR approach put less pressure on their child at mealtimes. A larger study with longer follow-up will be needed to determine whether the changes lead to a lower risk of childhood overweight or obesity. Dr Agras and colleagues add, "Efforts to increase consumption of healthy foods in toddlers should include counseling parents to model eating such foods and not to pressure children to eat them."

Eat dessert first? It might help you control your diet

Consumers watching their diet should pay close attention to the amount of unhealthy foods they eat, but can relax when it comes to healthier options, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"Although self-control is typically viewed as a battle between willpower and desire, consumers can't rely entirely on willpower to control their eating. They also need to create situations that will make them lose interest in food. One way is to keep better track of the quantity of unhealthy foods they eat," write authors Joseph P. Redden (University of Minnesota) and Kelly L. Haws (Texas A&M University).

Some consumers are able to exercise great self-control when it comes to their diets while millions of others can't seem to stop overindulging on unhealthy foods such as cookies and candies. Do the former have more willpower? Or are they simply satisfied more quickly?

In a series of studies, the authors found that consumers who successfully control their diets eat fewer unhealthy foods because they are satisfied sooner. They also found that many consumers with poor self-control were able to establish greater control when they paid close attention to the quantities of unhealthy foods they consumed because simply paying attention made them more quickly satisfied.

In one interesting study, a group of consumers were asked to eat either a healthy or an unhealthy snack. Some of the consumers were asked to count how many times they swallowed while eating the snack. Consumers who counted the number of times they swallowed were satisfied more quickly even if they otherwise had a low level of self-control. Monitoring how much they ate made consumers with low self-control behave like those with high self-control.

"Dieters should focus on the quantity of unhealthy foods but not the quantity of healthy foods. Monitoring healthy foods could actually be counterproductive to the goal of eating a healthier diet. So the secret to success is knowing when to monitor your eating," the authors conclude.


Journal Reference:

  1. Joseph P. Redden and Kelly L. Haws. Healthy Satiation: The Role of Decreasing Desire in Effective Self-Control. Journal of Consumer Research, February 2013

Food fight or romantic dinner? Communication between couples is key to improving men's diets

Married men will eat their peas to keep the peace, but many aren't happy about it, and may even binge on unhealthy foods away from home.

"The key to married men adopting a healthier diet is for couples to discuss and negotiate the new, healthier menu changes as a team," said Derek Griffith, assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

This seems obvious, but most times it doesn't happen, according to a new study called "'She looks out for the meals, period.' African-American men's perceptions of how their wives influence their eating behavior and dietary health."

Researchers conducted focus groups with 83 African-American men. The majority of men said their wives didn't consult them when helping them to adopt a healthier diet. Even though the healthier diet was often ordered by a physician, the husbands often disliked the food changes, but to avoid conflict, they didn't object. Men focused more on maintaining a happy home than having a say in what they ate.

In fact, the only examples found of couples negotiating healthy food choices came about to benefit the children in the home, Griffith said.

However, without that communication, those good intentions and healthy diet changes often backfired, the study found. After tasteless ground turkey for the fifth night in a row, some men would head to the all-you-can-eat buffet for "a landslide of food."

"I think at dinner a lot of men are eating healthier, but they compensate for the dissatisfaction of not eating what they want by making unhealthier choices outside the home," Griffith said.

Physicians can help by recognizing that wives play a central role in what men eat at home, Griffith said.

"Doctors could suggest that men have a tactful conversation with their wives in a way that ensures the husbands aren't sleeping on the couch that night," Griffith said.

Julie Ober Allen of the U-M School of Public Health and Henry Gaines of Black Men for Social Change are co-authors.


Journal Reference:

  1. Julie Ober Allen, Derek M. Griffith, Henry C. Gaines. “She Looks out for the Meals, Period”: African American Men's Perceptions of How Their Wives Influence Their Eating Behavior and Dietary Health.. Health Psychology, 2012; DOI: 10.1037/a0028361
 

'Obesity genes' may influence food choices, eating patterns

— Blame it on your genes? Researchers from The Miriam Hospital's Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center say individuals with variations in certain "obesity genes" tend to eat more meals and snacks, consume more calories per day and often choose the same types of high fat, sugary foods.

Their study, published online by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and appearing in the June issue, reveals certain variations within the FTO and BDNF genes — which have been previously linked to obesity — may play a role in eating habits that can cause obesity.

The findings suggest it may be possible to minimize genetic risk by changing one's eating patterns and being vigilant about food choices, in addition to adopting other healthy lifestyle habits, like regular physical activity.

"Understanding how our genes influence obesity is critical in trying to understand the current obesity epidemic, yet it's important to remember that genetic traits alone do not mean obesity is inevitable," said lead author Jeanne M. McCaffery, Ph.D., of The Miriam Hospital's Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center.

"Our lifestyle choices are critical when it comes to determining how thin or heavy we are, regardless of your genetic traits," she added. "However, uncovering genetic markers can possibly pinpoint future interventions to control obesity in those who are genetically predisposed."

Previous research has shown individuals who carry a variant of the fast mass and obesity-associated gene FTO and BDNF (or brain-derived neurotrophic factor gene) are at increased risk for obesity. The genes have also been linked with overeating in children and this is one of the first studies to extend this finding to adults. Both FTO and BDNF are expressed in the part of the brain that controls eating and appetite, although the mechanisms by which these gene variations influence obesity is still unknown.

As part of the Look AHEAD (Action in Health and Diabetes) trial, more than 2,000 participants completed a questionnaire about their eating habits over the past six months and also underwent geneotyping. Researchers focused on nearly a dozen genes that have been previously associated with obesity. They then examined whether these genetic markers influenced the pattern or content of the participants' diet.

Variations in the FTO gene specifically were significantly associated with a greater number of meals and snacks per day, greater percentage of energy from fat and more servings of fats, oils and sweets. The findings are largely consistent with previous research in children.

Researchers also discovered that individuals with BDNF variations consumed more servings from the dairy and the meat, eggs, nuts and beans food groups. They also consumed approximately 100 more calories per day, which McCaffery notes could have a substantial influence on one's weight.

"We show that at least some of the genetic influence on obesity may occur through patterns of dietary intake," she said. "The good news is that eating habits can be modified, so we may be able to reduce one's genetic risk for obesity by changing these eating patterns."

McCaffery says that while this research greatly expands their knowledge on how genetics may influence obesity, the data must be replicated before the findings can be translated into possible clinical measures..

Pleasure eating triggers body's reward system and may stimulate overeating

When eating is motivated by pleasure, rather than hunger, endogenous rewarding chemical signals are activated which can lead to overeating, according to a recent study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM). The phenomenon ultimately affects body mass and may be a factor in the continuing rise of obesity.

"'Hedonic hunger' refers to the desire to eat for pleasure, and to enjoy the taste, rather than to restore the body's energy needs,"says Palmiero Monteleone, MD, of the University of Naples SUN in Italy and lead author of this study. "For example, desiring and eating a piece of cake even after a satiating meal is consumption driven by pleasure and not by energy deprivation. The physiological process underlying hedonic eating is not fully understood, but it is likely that endogenous substances regulating reward mechanisms like the hormone ghrelin and chemical compounds such as 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) are involved."

In this study, researchers assessed eight satiated healthy adults, aged 21-33 years, feeding them each their personal favorite food and, later, a less-palatable food of equal caloric and nutrient value. Researchers periodically measured 2-AG and ghrelin levels. The plasma levels of ghrelin and 2-AG increased during hedonic eating, with the favorite foods, but not with non-hedonic eating. This increase suggests an activation of the chemical reward system, which overrides the body's signal that enough has been eaten to restore energy.

"Hedonic hunger may powerfully stimulate overeating in an environment where highly palatable foods are omnipresent, and contribute to the surge in obesity,"says Monteleone. "Understanding the physiological mechanisms underlying this eating behaviour may shed some light on the obesity epidemic. Further research should confirm and extend our results to patients with obesity or with other eating disorders in order to better understand the phenomenon of hedonic eating."

Other researchers working on the study include: Pasquale Scognamiglio, Alessio Maria Monteleone, Benedetta Canestrelli, and Mario Maj of the University of Naples SUN, Naples, Italy; and Fabiana Piscitelli and Vincenzo Di Marzo of the Institute of Biomolecular Chemistry, Pozzuli, Italy.

The article, "Hedonic eating is associated with increased peripheral levels of ghrelin and the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoyl-glycerol in healthy humans. A pilot study," appears in the June 2012 issue of JCEM.


Journal Reference:

  1. P. Monteleone, F. Piscitelli, P. Scognamiglio, A. M. Monteleone, B. Canestrelli, V. Di Marzo, M. Maj. Hedonic Eating Is Associated with Increased Peripheral Levels of Ghrelin and the Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoyl-Glycerol in Healthy Humans: A Pilot Study. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2012; DOI: 10.1210/jc.2011-3018
 

Fasting for Lent forces hyenas to change diet

Many Christians give up certain foods for Lent, however ecologists have discovered these changes in human diet have a dramatic impact on the diet of wild animals. In Ethiopia, members of the Orthodox Tewahedo Church stop eating meat and dairy products during a 55-day fast before Easter. As a result, spotted hyenas too change their eating habits — from scavenging waste from butchers and households to hunting — new research in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Animal Ecology has found.

Spotted hyenas are supremely adaptable mammals, capable both of adapting to habitats with dense human populations and to eating whatever food is available. While they are efficient hunters, they are also opportunistic scavengers, eating everything from birds, mammals, fish and reptiles to garbage, cooked porridge and dung. And they have digestive systems to match, says Gidey Yirga from Mekelle University.

"Hyenas can eat almost any organic matter, even putrid carrion and anthrax-infected carcasses. They are capable of eating and digesting all parts of their prey except hair and hooves. Bones are digested so completely that only the inorganic components are excreted in the hyena's droppings," he explains.

Working at three sites around Mekelle in northern Ethiopia, Yirga collected all hyena droppings from each 1 hectare site on three occasions on the first and last days of the 55-day Abye Tsome (Lent) fast, and then again 55 days after the fast ended — a total of 553 droppings.

To find out what the hyenas had been eating before, during and after Lent, he compared hairs found in the hyenas' droppings with a reference collection of hair from other animals found in the region.

The results showed that when humans stop buying, eating and discarding animal products the hyenas' eating habits change significantly: before Lent, 14.8% of hyena droppings contained donkey hairs, during Lent this increased to 33.1%, falling again to 22.2% once the fast was over.

According to Yirga: "Our study shows a remarkable change in the hyenas' diet — we found that hyenas around Mekelle mainly scavenge waste from butchers and households but during fasting donkeys provided an alternative food source."

By providing this unique insight into the effect of changes in human diet on local hyenas, the results illustrate that hyenas are highly adaptable and opportunistic scavengers and hunters. They also have implications for those managing the conflict that can arise when large carnivores use anthropogenic food sources.

"Understanding details of the foraging behaviour of carnivores in an anthropogenic environment can help reveal specific causes of conflict, leading to better strategies for reducing availability of anthropogenic food and preventing conflict," Yirga concludes.


Journal Reference:

  1. Gidey Yirga, Hans H. De Iongh, Herwig Leirs, Kindeya Gebrihiwot, Jozef Deckers, Hans Bauer. Adaptability of large carnivores to changing anthropogenic food sources: diet change of spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) during Christian fasting period in northern Ethiopia. Journal of Animal Ecology, 2012; DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2012.01977.x