One of the best ways to target eating disorders is to help sufferers eliminate negative thoughts about themselves, rather than focus on eating behaviors or weight, according to new research by the Institute of Psychiatry (IOP) at King’s College London and the University of Oxford.
For the study, researchers used a computer-based treatment known as “Cognitive Bias Modification” (CBM) on 88 female participants at risk for eating disorders. CBM was designed to teach participants how to change their perspective of what happens in life and the reasons behind things.
CBM has already been used as a treatment for some anxiety disorders and is currently being developed for use as a treatment for depression. This study is the first to use CBM to target eating disorders.
“We found CBM changed the participants’ negative beliefs which in turn changed their behaviors and thoughts related to eating, weight, and shape. Completing this training changed how the women thought and felt when they saw themselves in a mirror, weighed themselves and it changed how much they ate,” said lead author Jenny Yiend, Ph.D., from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s.
While battling an eating disorder, it is common for sufferers to focus on eating, weight, and shape rather than on beliefs about oneself.
In this study, however, researchers focused on helping sufferers eliminate negative self-beliefs and then investigated whether changing those beliefs would bring about a change in symptoms. CBM was ideal for this purpose because it allows experimental manipulation of beliefs.
During the CBM experiment, participants would read scenarios on a computer screen. They were asked to complete missing words and answer questions about each scenario in a way that encouraged more adaptive beliefs about themselves.
After the first session, the women experienced a range of effects, including significant changes in target beliefs, eating disorder behaviors, related intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and depression, with some of the effects remaining at a one-week follow-up.
“It is early days, and this is not yet a fully developed therapy, but these results are promising. The next steps are to lengthen the intervention, and study its effects in a clinical population,” said second lead author Myra Cooper, Ph.D., a consultant clinical psychologist from the University of Oxford.
The study was published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.
Source: King’s College London