In addition, nutritional therapy is often necessary to balance body and brain chemistry before improvement can take place (Lock & Fitzpatrick, 2009).
Since an can be so difficult to treat after onset, some researchers are focused on possible measures to prevent the development of eating disorders in the first place, and some of their findings are highly promising (Novotney, 2009). For example, a 2008 study of nearly 500 adolescent girls with poor body image found a 60% reduction in the development of eating disorder symptomology among those who participated in intervention activities (Novotney, 2009). Preventive interventions were based on the theory of cognitive dissonance and required young women to express criticisms of society's ultra-thin female ideal through various individual and group exercises (Novotney, 2009). This suggests that at the middle school and high school levels, parents, teachers, and counselors may be able to counteract some harmful media messages about thinness and self-esteem by guiding girls to think critically about the "unattainable ideal" presented for female beauty (Novotney, 2009). Even at the elementary school level, researchers have found a reduction in the development of eating disorders among children who participated in web-based activities designed to promote healthy eating and positive body image (Novotney, 2009).
Current Research on Treatments
As a result of research finding a link between an and unconscious, disturbed emotional responses, scientists and psychologists are studying possible pharmacological or psychotherapeutic treatments that counter negative automatic emotional responses (Hatch & al, 2010). As far as therapy, this will involve patient practice in repeating positive responses to replace negative-response habits (Hatch & al, 2010).
Other research is underway for the treatment of older, more resistant an patients, or those in areas without a lot of treatment options or facilities (Novotney, 2009). For patients in rural areas, partially web-based therapies are being studied; for adult women, couples therapy is being tested as a replacement for the family therapy useful with younger patients (Novotney, 2009). The couples therapy is based on cognitive-behavioral methods proven effective for other issues such as addictions and anxiety disorders (Novotney, 2009).
For teenagers with an, the most recent research still supports the use of specific family therapy techniques, such as those developed and recently manualized by doctors at the Maudsley Hospital in London (DeAngelis, 2002). The overall premise of the Maudsley approach involves viewing "the eating disorder as controlling the adolescent, thereby interrupting normal development…the family is not to blame for the eating disorder, but is seen as a valuable ally in treatment" (DeAngelis, 2002, p. 1). A recent study found that among 40 patients with an, the Maudsley method proved effective in 67% of cases, benefitting symptom reduction, healthy weight maintenance, and improved family dynamics (DeAngelis, 2002).
AN has proved a perplexing condition to treat successfully. This is likely due to a complex interplay between genetic, physiological, emotional, and social etiological factors. Fortunately, researchers are finding that prevention interventions are helpful for young girls at risk of developing the disease, and the Maudsley family therapy approach is highly effective for teenagers after onset (DeAngelis, 2002). For adults with an, who are estimated to constitute 35% of all cases, the prognosis is not so bright. However, if prevention programs are successfully implemented as part of elementary, middle, and high school curriculums, the number of cases developing in the first place may decrease dramatically. Moreover, even when prevention does not work, successful application of the well-tested Maudsley family therapy method should keep many cases from progressing to the resistant adult phase. For existing adult cases, couples therapy may be the most successful approach, since it takes advantage of day-to-day relationship dynamics much like the Maudsley method.
DeAngelis, T. (2002). Promising Treatments for Anorexia and Bulimia. Monitor, 33 (3), 38.
Hatch, a., & al, e. (2010). Emotion Brain Alterations in Anorexia Nervosa: a Candidate Biological Marker and Implications for Treatment. ournal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience: JPN. Volume: 35. Issue: 4. Publication Year: 2010. Page Number: 267+, 35 (4), 267+.
Kanarek, R., & al, e. (2009). Running and Addiction: Precipitated Withdrawal in a Rat Model of Anorexia. Behavioral Neuroscience, 123 (4), 905-912.