Outcome in anorexia nervosa remains poor and a new way of looking at this condition is therefore needed. To this aim, we review the effects of food restriction and starvation in humans. It is suggested that body weight remains stable and relatively low when the access to food requires a considerable amount of physical activity. In this condition, the human homeostatic phenotype, body fat content is also low and as a consequence, the synthesis and release of brain neurotransmitters are modified. As an example, the role of neuropeptide Y is analyzed in rat models of this state. It is suggested that the normal behavioral role of neuropeptide Y is to facilitate the search for food and switch attention from sexual stimuli to food. Descriptive neuroendocrine studies on patients with anorexia nervosa have not contributed to the management of the patients and the few studies in which hormones have been administered have, at best, reversed an endocrine consequence secondary to starvation. In a modified framework for understanding the etiology and treatment of anorexia nervosa it is suggested that the condition emerges because neural mechanisms of reward and attention are engaged. The neural neuropeptide Y receptor system may be involved in the maintenance of the behavior of eating disorder patients because the localization of these receptors overlaps with the neural systems engaged in cue-conditioned eating in limbic and cortical areas. The eating behavior of patients with anorexia nervosa, and other eating disorders as well, is viewed as a cause of the psychological changes of the patients. Patients are trained to re-learn normal eating habits using external support and as they do, their symptoms, including the psychological symptoms, dissolve. (C) 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.