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Caring for a loved one with an eating disorder typically comes with a multitude of challenges, yet siblings and partners are often overlooked. It is important to understand if current clinical guidance for supporting carers are effective and being utilised for these groups, to help meet their needs.
To identify the experiential perspectives of siblings and partners of a loved one with an eating disorder compared with guidance for improving the adequacy of support provided to carers published by Beat and Academy for Eating Disorders.
Three online focus groups were held for ten siblings and five partners from across the UK (12 females and three males). Carers had experience of caring for a loved one with anorexia nervosa (13 carers) or bulimia nervosa (two carers), across a range of therapeutic settings. Focus group transcriptions were analysed with thematic analysis.
Four key themes were identified: (a) role-specific needs, (b) challenges encountered by siblings and partners, (c) generic needs and helpful strategies or approaches, and (d) accounts of service provision and family support.
Overall, the majority of experiences reported by siblings and partners did not meet the published guidance. Consequently, clinical practice recommendations were identified for services, alongside the charity sector, to take a proactive approach in detecting difficulties, providing skills training and emotional/practical support, adapting/tailoring peer support groups and supporting online facilitation. Our findings part-informed the design of our national online survey on loved ones’ experiences of care in eating disorders.
Emotional overeating is a process that is particularly relevant to people within the binge spectrum of eating disorders. Approximately a third of people with overweight share this phenotype. In addition, this behaviour may occur in neurodevelopmental disorders (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)) and other psychiatric disorders. The biopsychosocial underpinnings of emotional eating include a genetic vulnerability to a higher weight and various cognitive and emotional traits. The environment also plays a key role. For example, the commodification of food and beauty and exposure to weight stigma, unpleasant eating experiences and general adversity can set the scene. The majority of people with binge-eating disorder do not seek treatment (perhaps related to internalised stigma and shame). Hence opportunities for early intervention and secondary prevention are lost. Most guidelines for binge-eating disorder (based on the limited available research) recommend forms of cognitive psychotherapies and antidepressants. However, novel treatments that target underlying mechanisms are in development. These include interventions to improve emotional regulation and inhibitory control using neuromodulation and/or brain training. New technologies have been applied to talking therapies, including apps which can offer ‘just-in-time interventions’ or virtual reality or avatar work which can deliver more personalised interventions using complex scenarios. Drugs used for the treatment of ADHD, psychiatric and metabolic disorders may have the potential to be repurposed for binge-eating disorder. Thus, this is an area of rapid change with novel solutions being applied to this problem.
Parents of a loved one with an eating disorder report high levels of unmet needs. Research is needed to understand whether clinical guidance designed to improve the experience of parents has been effective.
To establish parents’ experiential perspectives of eating disorder care in the UK, compared with guidance published by Beat, a UK eating disorders charity, and Academy for Eating Disorders, the leading international eating disorders professional association.
A total of six focus groups (one online and five face-to-face) were held throughout the UK. A total of 32 parents attended. All participants were parents of a loved one with a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa or atypical anorexia nervosa (mean age 22 years; mean duration of illness 4.4 years). Focus groups were transcribed, and the text was analysed with an inductive approach, to identify emerging themes.
Four key themes were identified: (a) impact of eating disorder on one's life, (b) current service provisions, (c) navigating the transition process and (d) suggestions for improvement.
Current experiences of parents in the UK do not align with the guidelines published by Beat and Academy of Eating Disorders. Parents identified a number of changes that healthcare providers could make, including improved information and support for parents, enhanced training of professionals, consistent care across all UK service providers, policy changes and greater involvement of families in their loved one's care. Findings from this project informed the design of a national web-survey on loved ones’ experience of care in eating disorders.
This trial examined the feasibility, acceptability, and effect sizes of clinical outcomes of an intervention that combines inhibitory control training (ICT) and implementation intentions (if-then planning) to target binge eating and eating disorder psychopathology.
Seventy-eight adult participants with bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder were randomly allocated to receive food-specific, or general, ICT and if-then planning for 4 weeks.
Recruitment and retention rates at 4 weeks (97.5% and 79.5%, respectively) met the pre-set cut-offs. The pre-set adherence to the intervention was met for the ICT sessions (84.6%), but not for if-then planning (53.4%). Binge eating frequency and eating disorder psychopathology decreased in both intervention groups at post-intervention (4 weeks) and follow-up (8 weeks), with moderate to large effect sizes. There was a tendency for greater reductions in binge eating frequency and eating disorders psychopathology (i.e. larger effect sizes) in the food-specific intervention group. Across both groups, ICT and if-then planning were associated with small-to-moderate reductions in high energy-dense food valuation (post-intervention), food approach (post-intervention and follow-up), anxiety (follow-up), and depression (follow-up). Participants indicated that both interventions were acceptable.
The study findings reveal that combined ICT and if-then planning is associated with reductions in binge eating frequency and eating disorder psychopathology and that the feasibility of ICT is promising, while improvements to if-then planning condition may be needed.
Despite their use in clinical practice, there is little evidence to support the use of therapist written goodbye letters as therapeutic tools. However, preliminary evidence suggests that goodbye letters may have benefits in the treatment of anorexia nervosa (AN).
This study aimed to examine whether therapist written goodbye letters were associated with improvements in body mass index (BMI) and eating disorder symptomology in patients with AN after treatment.
Participants were adults with AN (n = 41) who received The Maudsley Model of Anorexia Treatment for Adults (MANTRA) in a clinical trial evaluating two AN out-patient treatments. As part of MANTRA, therapists wrote goodbye letters to patients. A rating scheme was developed to rate letters for structure and quality. Linear regression analyses were used to examine associations between goodbye letter scores and outcomes after treatment.
Higher quality letters and letters that adopted a more affirming stance were associated with greater improvements in BMI at 12 months. Neither the overall quality nor the style of goodbye letters were associated with improvements in BMI at 24 months or reductions in eating disorder symptomology at either 12 or 24 months.
The results highlight the potential importance of paying attention to the overall quality of therapist written goodbye letters in the treatment of AN, and adopting an affirming stance.
Outpatient interventions for adult anorexia nervosa typically have a modest impact on weight and eating disorder symptomatology. This study examined whether adding a brief online intervention focused on enhancing motivation to change and the development of a recovery identity (RecoveryMANTRA) would improve outcomes in adults with anorexia nervosa.
Participants with anorexia nervosa (n = 187) were recruited from 22 eating disorder outpatient services throughout the UK. They were randomised to receiving RecoveryMANTRA in addition to treatment as usual (TAU) (n = 99; experimental group) or TAU only (n = 88; control group). Outcomes were measured at end-of-intervention (6 weeks), 6 and 12 months.
Adherence rates to RecoveryMANTRA were 83% for the online guidance sessions and 77% for the use of self-help materials (workbook and/or short video clips). Group differences in body mass index at 6 weeks (primary outcome) were not significant. Group differences in eating disorder symptoms, psychological wellbeing and work and social adjustment (at 6 weeks and at follow-up) were not significant, except for a trend-level greater reduction in anxiety at 6 weeks in the RecoveryMANTRA group (p = 0.06). However, the RecoveryMANTRA group had significantly higher levels of confidence in own ability to change (p = 0.02) and alliance with the therapist at the outpatient service (p = 0.005) compared to the control group at 6 weeks.
Augmenting outpatient treatment for adult anorexia nervosa with a focus on recovery and motivation produced short-term reductions in anxiety and increased confidence to change and therapeutic alliance.