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 →

Clinical Utility of Weight Suppression in Bulimia Nervosa Treatment – Part II

In this post I will continue my discussion on weight suppression in bulimia nervosa (click here to read Part I). Just in case you happen to be reading the posts out of sequence, I will summarize the main points of that entry:

  1. Weight suppression is the difference between one’s current body weight and highest adult body weight.
  2. It has been found that individuals with BN are on average well below their highest historical weights (i.e. they are weight suppressed).
  3. Many studies have consistently found positive associations between WS and the onset and maintenance of BN symptoms.


Because most individuals with BN have undergone significant weight loss, this makes them susceptible to weight regain — much like obese individuals usually regain the weight they have lost. Indeed, evidence suggests that weight suppression predicts weight gain in individuals with … Continue reading →

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy for Bulimia Nervosa in the “Real World”: What's the Evidence?

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is commonly described as the evidence-based treatment for bulimia nervosa. But do the findings from nearly perfectly crafted trials, with stringently followed protocols and “ideal” participants apply to the “real world”? How generalizable are the findings from carefully selected participants to clinical populations where, for one, the prevalence of psychiatric comorbidities is relatively high?

In other words, CBT has been shown to be efficacious (i.e., it works in a controlled experimental research trial setting) but is it effective (i.e., does it work in a clinical setting where clients might have multiple diagnoses and complex needs)?

This is precisely the question that Glenn Waller and colleagues sought to answer. They wanted to see whether CBT would work in a “routine clinical setting, where none of the exclusion-and protocol-based constraints […] apply.”


Participants were recruited from a publicly-funded outpatient ED service in the UK. The only exclusion criteria were … 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, or those that relapse after CBT?

Shapiro and colleagues had the … Continue reading →

A Study Without a Control Group? Evidence for Enhanced Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Adults with Anorexia Nervosa

Here’s a quick tip: when a study that purports to find evidence of treatment effectiveness–preliminary or not–doesn’t have a control group (a group that doesn’t undergo treatment but is otherwise similar to the group that does), you should raise your eyebrows. Or shake your head. Or roll your eyes. Whichever you prefer.

Why do we need a control group? If the treatment works, we will see improvement in the patients, so isn’t that evidence enough? Well, no.

[T]he whole idea of an experiment is to identify two identical groups of people and then to manipulate something. One group gets an experimental treatment, and one does not. If the group that gets the treatment (e.g., a drug, exposure to a violent video game) behaves differently than the control group that did not get the treatment, we can attribute the difference to the treatment – but only if we can rest

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Doing It Together: Uniting Couples in the Treatment of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders don’t discriminate against gender, age, sexual orientation or race. Veteran men in their 50’s can struggle with eating disorders, as can trans men and women of all ages and backgrounds, and so can congenitally blind (and deaf) individuals.

Besides the barriers that many of these patients face in simply getting diagnosed with an eating disorder, yes, even if they’ve passed that hurdle, many face an even bigger problem: getting appropriate treatment.

Naturally, no one treatment method will work for everyone, especially when the patient population is so diverse. What works for a 13-year-old female may not work for a man in his 40’s or 50’s.  Unfortunately, treatment options (at least those that have some empirical evidence) are limited. As I’ve recently blogged, new treatments are being developed and utilized in treating adults and/or patients with with long-standing eating disorders – sub-populations that have largely been … Continue reading →

How Can We Treat Chronic and Severe Anorexia Nervosa? (On the Need for New Approaches)

Treating anorexia nervosa is hard. Treating chronic and severe anorexia nervosa is a lot harder. Although the situation seems to be improving, there are really no evidence-based treatments for anorexia nervosa – particularly for those who have been sick for a long time.

Patients with severe and enduring anorexia nervosa have one of the most challenging disorders in mental health care  (Strober, 2010).They have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness with markedly reduced life expectancy (Harbottle et al., 2008). At 20 years the mortality rate is 20%, and given the young age of onset this results in many young adults dying in their 30s, and a further 5–10% every decade thereafter (Steinhausen, 2002)… Patients are often under- or unemployed, on sickness benefits, suffer multiple medical complications… have repeated admissions to general and specialist medical facilities, and are frequent users of primary care services (Birmingham and Treasure, 2010; Robinson, 2009).. pose a 

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