Category: Eating Disorders

Symposium

Is Exposure to Feared Foods Helpful or Harmful During Weight RestorationTreatment for Adolescents With Anorexia Nervosa?

Saturday, November 18
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Cobalt 501, Level 5, Cobalt Level

Keywords: Exposure | Eating Disorders | Adolescents
Presentation Type: Symposium

Exposure therapy holds promise as a treatment for eating disorders, which are characterized by significant anxiety about food, eating, weight, and shape (Pallister & Waller, 2008).  Exposure treatment for eating disorders may be helpful at reducing anxiety by encouraging patients to eat foods that they avoid due to fear or guilt and challenging inaccurate thinking about the consequences of eating these foods.  On the other hand, it has also been suggested that exposure to feared foods during the weight restoration phase of treatment for anorexia nervosa (AN) could have harmful consequences by inadvertently strengthening patients’ beliefs about the association between feared foods and weight gain (Murray et al., 2016).  The present study aims to explore the impact of exposing adolescents with AN to feared foods over the course of treatment at a partial hospital program for eating disorders.  Data collection is currently ongoing, with an estimated final sample size of 25 patients.  Analyses will compare subjective units of distress (SUDS) ratings of foods that patients with AN are routinely exposed to in the program (“exposure foods”) to feared foods that patients are not exposed to in the program (“non-exposure foods”).  Patients with AN report SUDS ratings for exposure and non-exposure foods at intake, three weeks into program, and six weeks into program.  Patients also complete SUDS ratings and a brief state anxiety questionnaire before and after eating each exposure meal.  Preliminary results suggest that patients with AN report reduced SUDS about exposure foods relative to non-exposure foods three weeks and six weeks into treatment.  Additionally, patients with AN appear to exhibit substantial variability with regards to changes in state anxiety before and after each exposure meal: while some patients report decreases in anxiety following exposure meals, other patients report increased anxiety.  Implications of these results on the timing and content of exposure therapy for AN will be discussed, including whether exposure to feared foods is appropriate during the weight restoration phase of treatment.

Jamal H. Essayli

Postdoctoral Fellow
Pennsylvania State University Milton S. Hershey Medical Center

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