Applying neurobiology to the treatment of adults with anorexia nervosa

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Background: Anorexia nervosa is a severe, biologically based brain disorder with significant medical complications. It is critical that new, effective treatments are developed to interrupt the persistent course of the illness due to the medical and psychological sequelae. Several psychosocial, behavioral and pharmacologic interventions have been investigated in adult anorexia nervosa; however, evidence shows that their impact is weak and treatment effects are generally small. Method: This paper describes a new neurobiological anorexia nervosa model that shifts focus from solely external influences, such as social and family, to include internal influences that integrate genetic and neurobiological contributions, across the age span. The model serves as a theoretical structure for a new, five-day treatment, outlined in this paper, targeting anorexia nervosa temperament, which integrates neurobiological dimensions into evidence-based treatment interventions. The treatment is in two phases. Phase I is a five day, 40 hour treatment for anorexia nervosa adults. Phase II is the follow-up and is currently being developed. Results: Preliminary qualitative acceptability data on 37 adults with anorexia nervosa and 60 supports (e.g., spouses, parents, aunts, friends, partners, children of anorexia nervosa adults) are promising from Phase I. Clients with anorexia nervosa and their supports report that learning neurobiological facts improved their understanding of the illness and helped equip them with better tools to manage anorexia nervosa traits and symptoms. In addition, nutritional knowledge changed significantly. Conclusions: This is the first neurobiologically based, five-day treatment for adults with anorexia nervosa and their supports. It is a new model that outlines underlying genetic and neurobiological contributions to anorexia nervosa that serves as a foundation to treat both traits and symptoms. Preliminary qualitative findings are promising, with both clients and supports reporting that the neurobiological treatment approach helped them better understand the illness, while better conceptualizing how to respond to their traits and manage their symptoms. Data in Phase I shows promise as a neurobiologically based intervention for anorexia nervosa, and it serves as a foundation for the development of Phase II. Evidence of ongoing program efficacy will be described as data are reported on Phase II. Trial registration: NCT NCT02852538Registered 1 August 2016.




Hill, L., Peck, S. K., Wierenga, C. E., & Kaye, W. H. (2016). Applying neurobiology to the treatment of adults with anorexia nervosa. Journal of Eating Disorders, 4(1).

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