Anorexia nervosa is best construed as a phobic avoidance response to the psychosocial maturational implications of adolescent weight. Within this state, surrender to the impulse to eat and consequent weight gain is associated with panic, depression and sometimes specific intense fear of loss of control. So long as the avoidance posture can be maintained the experience of such turmoil is largely avoided.
Complicated ritualistic behaviour may arise to promote and secure the posture. However, its unrewarding and lonely nature still increasingly leaves the individual liable to the experience of depression. Established treatment procedures often assist recovery from the illness but intractable cases arise and it is amongst these that the majority of deaths occur either from inanition or suicide.
The basis for the changes characteristically induced by leucotomy is complex. The procedure often leads to reduced tension and release of appetitive behaviour. This is taken to be due to some direct effect of the cerebral lesion and possibly the intervention may also be construed by some patients as a licence to behave differently. In patients with anorexia nervosa such appetitive release can be expected to promote considerable weight gain. However, the adverse psychological implications of such weight gain for the patient do not appear always to be so immediately or easily relieved.
They may still experience panic, shame or depression and new patterns of social avoidance, or vomiting behaviour may develop. Intensive help of a psychotherapeutic and rehabilitative kind is then still required if the patient is to have the best chance of adjusting healthily to her newly found potential for a more normal nutritional status. Four patients who have undergone such treatment are described in this paper. It is concluded that leucotomy has a small but definite place in the treatment of patients with intractable anorexia nervosa.