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'Am I cured yet?' Measuring eating disorder recovery is subject of new study

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Given that relapse rates for eating disorders are extremely high and recovery is hard to measure, it's no wonder why physicians and mental health professionals have a hard time answering the question "Am I cured yet?"

But new research from Stanford aims to clarify just when exactly an anorexic or bulimic has reached this milestone – a step forward that researchers hope will help standardize the definition of "recovery" when it comes to eating disorders.

The study

Examining data from five clinical trials that used different treatments for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, the study reviewed outcomes to determine what factors were associated with recovery check points at six, 12 or 24 months.

"Our question was really 'What can I look at to predict a year from now whether you will be well?'" said Dr. James Lock, director of the Stanford Child and Adolescent Eating Disorder Program at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and lead author of the study.

The team found that there were, indeed, measurable predictors of recovery. For adolescents with bulimia, behavioral modifications, like refraining from purging, were the best predictors of recovery. For anorexics, reaching a body weight of around 95 percent of what is considered healthy was a preventative factor against relapse.

There were no common predictors for recovery across the different disorders. Instead, the study found that physical, behavioral and psychological approaches, in some combination, were all important for success.

What is progress?

Since a large goal of the study was to arrive at a more cohesive definition of what recovery actually looks like, the researchers are optimistic that the results offer doctors a better roadmap with which they can guide patients and discuss recovery progress.

"What we hope to have done in the paper is give people a way of saying, 'You're not in a group that needs more treatment' or 'maybe it looks like you're going to need more treatment,' " Lock said. "I want to be able to tell my patients how they'll do when they're finished with treatment."

Where eating disorder research is failing, said Dr. Neal Anzai, director of eating disorder programs at Berkeley's Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, is accounting for the recovery outcomes of adults. More research is still necessary for this population, he stressed.

"I think these are things that a lot of people are thinking that are often ignored in the treatment process," said Anzai. "These are predictors that should be obvious, but not everyone pays attention to them."

Lock's study is published in the August issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

Source: MedCity News