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Existing internet-based prevention and treatment programmes for binge eating are composed of multiple distinct modules that are designed to target a broad range of risk or maintaining factors. Such multi-modular programmes (1) may be unnecessarily long for those who do not require a full course of intervention and (2) make it difficult to distinguish those techniques that are effective from those that are redundant. Since dietary restraint is a well-replicated risk and maintaining factor for binge eating, we developed an internet- and app-based intervention composed solely of cognitive-behavioural techniques designed to modify dietary restraint as a mechanism to target binge eating. We tested the efficacy of this combined selective and indicated prevention programme in 403 participants, most of whom were highly symptomatic (90% reported binge eating once per week).
Participants were randomly assigned to the internet intervention (n = 201) or an informational control group (n = 202). The primary outcome was objective binge-eating frequency. Secondary outcomes were indices of dietary restraint, shape, weight, and eating concerns, subjective binge eating, disinhibition, and psychological distress. Analyses were intention-to-treat.
Intervention participants reported greater reductions in objective binge-eating episodes compared to the control group at post-test (small effect size). Significant effects were also observed on each of the secondary outcomes (small to large effect sizes). Improvements were sustained at 8 week follow-up.
Highly focused digital interventions that target one central risk/maintaining factor may be sufficient to induce meaningful change in core eating disorder symptoms.
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