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New treatment for bulimia focuses on recording negative emotions

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When it comes to bulimia, a new treatment has shown promise in early trials.

Different than more traditional bulimia therapy, which focuses on developing a better body image and managing caloric intake appropriately, the new treatment is centered around a simple idea: learn to identify negative feelings that lead up to bulimic behaviors.

Integrative Cognitive-Affective Therapy

Research on the therapy, led by Stephen Wonderlich, a Director of Clinical Research at Neuropsychiatric Research Institute (NRI), was conducted over a period of 10 years and included 80 patients in a controlled trial. Called "Integrative Cognitive-Affective Therapy," the treatment method proved to have outcomes just as good as more traditional bulimia interventions.

"When we did the scientific comparison, there was no difference between our treatment and the established treatment in terms of outcomes--they were comparable, or equal, in their efficacy," Wonderlich said.

Based on what the research team calls emotional and relationship variables, the treatment aims to help patients identify the emotional processes and cues that trigger the cycle of a bulimic episode. According to the study, negative emotions are big triggers, and a bulimic may decide to binge and purge in order to feel better or avoid negative emotions.

Writing down feelings helps patients identify triggers

A key part of the treatment was having patients also use personal digital assistants to record their feelings and behaviors.

"Basically, we're asking patients to report how they feel and observe the increase in negative emotions leading up to the behavior; what we want to know is what are things that make people feel badly, and then help them recognize that, and change their responses to those negative emotions," said Wonderlich.

Bulimia, according to Wonderlich and his team, isn't just about negative or self-destructive habits--it's a disease of the mind that affects how a person views the world and functions in it. Better understanding of emotional triggers--and recording them so as to have a road map of what the bulimic cycle looks like--can help lead a person to recovery.

"This is good news for the field because now there is another promising alternative treatment available which is a little different in nature than the Oxford treatment," Wonderlich affirms.

Source: Science Daily