The Sobering Reality (and the Silver Lining) of Treating Anorexia Nervosa in Adults: A Randomised Controlled Trial

The challenges of treating anorexia nervosa are plenty; some of these challenges — like low prevalence rate and high treatment dropout rate —  make conducting randomised controlled trials aimed at identifying effective treatment methods really hard as well.

So I was pretty excited about the recently published randomised controlled trial comparing focal psychodynamic therapy (FPT), cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), and optimised treatment as usual in adult (a harder to treat demographic than adolescents) anorexia nervosa patients.

Reading the paper, I was pretty impressed with how good the study design was; I’m not going to go into all the nitty-gritty details, but if you have access to and the chance to read the paper, do it. You’ll appreciate, I think, the amount of effort that went into this.


Patients were recruited from ten universities across Germany. They had to be adult females with a BMI between 15-18 and with … Continue reading →

Life After Recovery for Men with Eating Disorders

While there is growing recognition that (surprise, surprise!) men are not immune to eating disorders, men are still underrepresented in the literature about eating disorders. We know comparatively little about what it is like to be a man with an eating disorder, and less still about recovery and life after recovery for these individuals. Recently, Björk, Wallin, & Pettersen (2012) conducted a qualitative study that asked men who had been diagnosed with an eating disorder and completed treatment to describe how recovery factors into their present lives. The researchers interviewed 15 men aged 19-52 (mean age 23) in Norway and Sweden, 10 of whom had been diagnosed with AN, 4 with BN, and 1 with EDNOS. The authors did not specify duration of illness.


The authors used a phenomenographical approach to study recovery among men. Though I am familiar with qualitative methods, this approach was new to … Continue reading →

Factors Associated with Recovery from Anorexia Nervosa

Why do some people recover anorexia nervosa relatively quickly while others seem to struggle for years or decades? Does it depend on the person’s desire to get better? Their willpower? How much they are willing to fight? Is it just that some try harder than others? Some might say yes, but most will correctly realize that the picture is much, much more complex.

We can spend hours talking about barriers to treatment, but in this post I want to talk about something slightly different, something perhaps that is perhaps less “obvious.”

Suppose a group of girls–all roughly the same age, same illness duration, same socioeconomic background and race–enter the same treatment facility. What determines why some will do well in treatment and continue to do well after discharge, whereas others will relapse immediately after discharge, and yet others won’t respond to treatment at all? We know that catching eating … Continue reading →

Rigid Food Rules in Eating Disorders: Is Perfectionism to Blame?

I remember cutting baby carrots into 6 pieces. Rushing home to eat because I wasn’t “allowed” to eat after 7 pm. Eating the exact portion size–no more, no less. (Oh the rules. I don’t miss them.) Rigid food rules are very common among eating disorder sufferers. These rules can be about anything: the foods you are allowed to eat, how you are allowed to eat them, the time you are allowed to eat them, and so on.

But where do they come from? Why do some individuals have more rules and more ritualistic behaviours than others?

It is a complex question, but a recent study suggests that perfectionism might play a role. Specifically, the authors explored the idea that perfectionism mediates adherence to food rules in disordered eating behaviours. In order words, food rules might be a way in which perfectionism “expresses itself” in eating disorders.

Why perfectionismContinue reading →

Is Anorexia Nervosa an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorders (ADs) are common among patients with eating disorders. In one study of female inpatients, around 50-65% had a comorbid anxiety disorder (see my post here). Anxiety disorders in patients with anorexia nervosa (AN) typically begin before the eating disorder and often persist after weight restoration and recovery (Bulik et al., 1997; Casper, 1990). Moreover, previous twin studies have suggested that there’s a “correlation between eating disorders and certain anxiety and depressive disorders, suggesting they comprise a spectrum of inherited phenotypes” (Hudson et al., 2003; Mangweth et al., 2003).

In this paper, Michael Strober and colleagues hypothesized that anxiety disorders and anorexia nervosa share common genetic, neural, and/or behavioural mechanisms. As such, they sought to investigate the association of AN with ADs by studying the prevalence of ADs in first-degree relatives of AN patients and comparing it to the prevalence of ADs in first-degree relatives of Continue reading →

Characteristics of Women with Midlife-Onset Eating Disorders

Since the late 1990’s, Remuda Ranch Program for Eating Disorders has experienced a 400% increase in patients 40 years of age and older, according to the authors of this paper. However, we don’t really know what the similarities and differences are between women who develop eating disorders in adolescence and those who develop their eating disorders in midlife (40-65 years of age).

It has been theorized that EDs in midlife may be triggered by midlife transitions, such as loss of parents, siblings, or children; divorce; traumatic illness; and empty nest syndrome (Harris & Cumella, 2006; Maine & Kelly, 2005; Shellenbarger, 2004). […] Two quantitative studies found a high correlation between the fear of aging and disordered eating in older populations (Gupta, 1995; Lewis & Cachelin, 2001).

In this paper, Edward Cumella and Zina Kally present a summary of 50 women who first developed eating disorders at the age of 40 … Continue reading →

Pregnancy, Motherhood, and Eating Disorders: Women's Experiences

There is a common misconception that eating disorders somehow disappear during pregnancy; that becoming a mother stops all those silly worries about being slim and attractive. This is not necessarily the case, and unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma associated with talking about disordered eating behaviours during pregnancy. Openly admitting to it is an invitation, it seems, to being called selfish and vain. The implication is that eating disorders are something only young girls struggle with, and that pregnancy and motherhood are such big and important things that they should be enough to overcome an eating disorder.

Over recent decades, eating disorders have entered the public’s consciousness. They are regularly discussed, and often trivialized, in the popular media, depicted as no more than dieting gone wrong or overzealous weight loss. Yet these conditions warrant serious consideration because they are potentially life-threatening and can persist for years, ruining individuals’ long-term

Continue reading →

What's Wrong with How We Talk About Eating Disorders in the Media and in ED Communities – Part 1

I’m going to do something different today. I’m going to talk about some of the problems I see in how eating disorders are discussed by some media organizations, ED awareness groups, and ED advocates.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of everything that’s wrong (and there will be a follow-up). It is my personal opinion and I strongly encourage readers to leave comments if you disagree with me or feel that I’m missing something important.

I saw this quote on tumblr two days ago:

Anorexia is a young person’s game and I don’t have the time or energy to play any more.

This quote is amazing for all the wrong reasons. It is so wrong, so harmful, and embodies so much of what’s wrong with mainstream ED discourse. It was written by Emma Woolf. I traced the quote back to this document put out by the UK organization … Continue reading →

Mobile Therapy: Using Text-Messaging to Treat Bulimia Nervosa

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is one of the most commonly used approaches to treat bulimia nervosa, but even CBT (or any treatment) doesn’t work for everyone. Sometimes, even if CBT is helping, a weekly 50 minute therapy session is just not enough. Moreover, like with many other eating disorder treatments, dropout and relapse rates are high.

Although CBT is effective for 40–67% of patients, efforts are required to augment and improve  treatment to better serve individuals who drop out (0–33%), fail to engage (14%), or relapse (33%). The highest risk period for relapse is in the 6 months after treatment, with risk declining at 4-year follow-up. After 10 years, 11% of individuals originally diagnosed with BN continued to meet full diagnostic criteria for BN and 18.5% met criteria for eating disorder not otherwise specified.

What can be done to help the individuals that don’t benefit (or benefit fully) from CBT, … Continue reading →

Extreme Medical Negligence: Failure to Feed Patients with Anorexia Nervosa

They are crazy stories, really. It is hard to believe they are true.

A 28-year-old woman with anorexia nervosa complained about weakness and nausea following the insertion of a feeding tube. Her gastroenterologist sent her to the emergency room (ER). The woman was in the emergency room for two days without receiving any food. She was discharged home after she was told her lab tests and X-rays came back normal.  Unfortunately, her X-rays weren’t normal. Her gastroenterologist determined she had a bowel obstruction and sent her back to the hospital. She lost a substantial amount of weight in those 3 days.

A 26-year-old woman with a feeding tube was discharged prematurely from a residential facility. She began to feel dizzy and weak, and was admitted to a hospital. She did not receive any food for the 6 days she was there, despite extremely Continue reading →