Examining emotion regulation in anorexia patients

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Without effective treatment, eating disorders can be chronic and life threatening. Therefore as patients, we should be well-informed consumers of the treatment we receive. In fact, being armed with accurate information about what constitutes best practices in treatment could be the difference between life and death.

But how do we become well informed? One way to determine whether a treatment modality you’re receiving is high quality is to compare it to scientifically based research. In simple terms, instead of relying on opinion about a particular treatment, rely on objective research that demonstrates its effectiveness.

I understand it’s easier said than done. Research from peer-reviewed journals, for example, is chock full of medical jargon and puzzling statistics. Without an educational background in the field, it’s difficult to read and comprehend the language just like I wouldn’t be able to follow a plumber’s manual or an accountant’s spreadsheet.

So in this monthly column, I’ll become your translator. I’ll review a research article published in a peer-reviewed journal and provide a brief summary of its objective, method and results. Then, I’ll translate what the findings mean for the people who treat, love or suffer from an eating disorder.

Examining emotion regulation in anorexia patients

“Emotion regulation difficulties in anorexia nervosa before and after inpatient weight restoration”

Haynos, Roberto, Martinez, Attia & Fruzetti, 2014

International Journal of Eating Disorders, vol 47, issue 8, p. 888-891

This study examined the changes in difficulties anorexia nervosa patients experienced in effectively managing their emotions throughout treatment. The age of the 65 patients studied was 18 – 45.

Researchers evaluated patients’ self-reported ability to manage emotions before and after inpatient hospitalization treatment for the eating disorder.

What researchers discovered was that throughout treatment even though weight, anxiety, depression, and eating disorder symptoms all improved, their ability to manage their emotions did not. This finding was true for anorexia patients who only restricted, as well as for those patients who also suffered from purging and binge eating.

These findings seem to fit with what we see clinically in some patients with eating disorders: Some patients tell us that they notice their eating disorder symptoms allow them to “numb out” or to “feel better”. Eating more adequately as a result of treatment allows patients to experience improved mood and energy, but does not teach them how to address skills deficient in emotion regulation. This can make treatment difficult in that patients who go through treatment may “seem” better to others (i.e. eating better, have brighter effect), but these same patients may feel distressed inside.

The results of this study suggest that patients with anorexia could benefit from not only eating disorder treatment to cease negative behaviors (restricting) and achieve weight restoration but also treatment to teach them how to effectively manage their emotions.

One such treatment is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, which has been scientifically proven to effectively treat mental health disorders. The prime focus of DBT is to help patients manage their emotions more effectively in their everyday lives.

At The Emily Program, we offer DBT as one of the proven therapies in our eating disorder treatment programs. We understand the complexity of eating disorders and strive to treat the physical, behavioral and cognitive aspects of the illness.

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