Science 3 min read

Researchers Develop New Way of Treating Anorexia

Anorexia is one of the most common eating disorders that affect millions of people around the world. Now, a new and more effective treatment has been developed to help fight this illness.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Researchers have developed a new and more effective way of treating anorexia.

According to some Swedish scientists, eating disorders should be treated as what they are – eating disorders, and not as mental disorders. With this in mind, they developed a treatment to teach anorexic patients how to eat again.

For a long time, health experts have treated anorexia as a mental illness. Patients often have to undergo Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to target the process believed to maintain the disorder.

Unfortunately, this treatment method has not been as effective as we would hope.

After one year of CBT, the remission rate from the eating disorder is usually less than 25 percent. Besides, researchers still don’t have enough data to predict the long-term outcome of the treatment.

As such, it became necessary to consider another treatment approach. In his article in Frontiers in Neuroscience, Professor Per Södersten described his pioneering method of treating anorexia.

It involves outsourcing the control of eating behavior to a machine. The app provides feedback on how quickly a patient should eat.

Speaking about his method, Södersten said:

“Anorexic patients can normalize their eating rate by adjusting food intake to feedback from a smartphone app.”

Unlike the standard anorexia treatment, most of the anorexics regain average body weight and experience overall health improvement. With the new procedure, only a handful of patients relapsed, the professor said.

So, how does the app work?

Anorexia As An Evolutionary Response To Short Food Supply

Södersten’s approach is based on the theory that anorexia is an evolutionary response to the short food supply. With a limited food supply came slow eating and physical exertion – both hallmarks of the eating disorder.

“We find that chemical signaling in the starved brain supports the search for food, rather than eating itself,” reported Södersten.

Since the response is triggered by dieting, the scientists theorized that practicing healthy eating should reverse the disorder.

So, to prove the efficacy of the evolutionary perspective, Söderste and his team developed an app to teach anorexics how to eat again. The Mandometer app connects to a weighing scale under the plate and provides feedback to guide the patient’s eating behavior.

In a statement to explain how the treatment works, Södersten said:

“The scale records the weight loss of the plate during the meal, and via an app creates a curve of food intake, meal duration, and rate of eating. At regular intervals, a rating scale appears on the screen, and the subject is asked to rate their feeling of fullness.”

With the numerous real-time feedbacks, patients not only learn to visualize what reasonable food portion looks like, but it also helps them eat at a standard rate.

Improved Rate of Remission

Using this new method of practicing eating, the researchers have treated over 1500 anorexia patients to remission.

Södersten noted:

“The rate of remission is 75% in on average one year of treatment, the rate of relapse is 10% over five years of follow-up, and no patient has died.”

Read More: AI in Mental Health: Using Speech Analysis to Diagnose PTSD 

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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