Since I opened my practice in 2009, I have evaluated 10 patients with a diagnosis of Bulimia Nervosa (BN) and 16 patients with a diagnosis of Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). All patients with a diagnosis of BN or EDNOS who attended an evaluation and at least one treatment session with me, and who are no longer in treatment with me, were included in this sample. Patients I evaluated who did not attend any treatment sessions with me were not included in this sample. Patients who are currently in treatment with me were not included in this sample either. Thus, the sample I will be describing includes a total of 21 patients: 12 with EDNOS and 9 with BN.
As you continue to read, bear in mind that these results are specific to my practice and my patients. These data should not be generalized to other clinicians or other patients.
All patients in this sample were female. Age at intake ranged from 14 – 28, with an average age of 19. Two thirds of the patients (n = 14) had a comorbid disorder, with the most common being Major Depressive Disorder. Sixty-two percent of patients (n = 13) paid my full rate for services, while 38% (n = 8) paid a reduced rate.
For the purpose of calculating duration of illness, the onset of illness was defined as the period of time in which the patient began engaging in behavioral symptoms of eating disorders (e.g., restricting, bingeing, compulsive exercise, purging) as reported by the patient and/or parents. This is an important point to clarify, as symptoms of the illness typically begin long before a diagnosis is made. Length of illness before intake varied considerably, ranging from 6 months to 15 years, with an average of 4.5 years.
Over half of the patients in this sample (n = 11) had a prior history of Anorexia Nervosa (AN). Some of them had been diagnosed with and treated for AN, while others met criteria for AN at one point but were not treated until their illness morphed into BN or EDNOS.
The patients in this sample with EDNOS (n = 12) presented with a range of different symptoms. Half of the patients (n = 6) struggled with some combination of restricting, bingeing, and purging. One quarter of patients (n = 3) presented primarily with binge eating. Seventeen percent (n = 2) had Type I diabetes and withheld insulin (known as “diabulimia”). Eight percent (n = 1) presented with body image distress associated with a history of AN.
Ninety percent of these patients (n = 19) had a history of some type of psychological treatment prior to meeting with me. The majority had been in individual therapy for their eating disorder at some point. Forty-three percent of the sample (n = 9) had been hospitalized for their eating disorder or for a related psychiatric issue prior to beginning treatment with me. Nineteen percent (n = 4) had a history of residential eating disorders treatment and 24% (n = 5) had a history of partial hospitalization, day treatment, or intensive outpatient treatment.
One-third of the patients in this sample (n = 7) were treated with Family-Based Treatment (FBT). The remaining two-thirds (n = 14) were treated with individual Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), with varying degrees of family involvement. Of the individual therapy patients, 21% (n = 3) had a high level of family involvement, meaning that a family member participated in part of each session, shared information and impressions frequently, was kept apprised of weekly goals and progress, and maintained regular phone and email contact with me. Twenty-nine percent of individual therapy patients (n = 4) had a moderate level of family involvement, meaning that a family member participated in some sessions and had occasional phone and email contact with me. Seven percent of individual therapy patients (n = 1) had a low level of family involvement, meaning that a family member attended one or two sessions, and 43% of individual therapy patients (n = 6) had no family involvement whatsoever.
Parents were the most common family members involved in the patient’s treatment. However, some patients had boyfriends, husbands, stepparents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, and uncles involved depending on their living situation and individual circumstances. Whenever family members were involved with treatment, the focus was on providing them with psycho-education about eating disorders and enlisting them as sources of practical and emotional support for the patient at home. Family members were coached in providing meal support and in assisting their loved one in refraining from eating disorder behaviors such as bingeing and purging.
For patients who received individual therapy, my approach was primarily cognitive-behavioral (CBT). In addition, many patients were taught Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills such as distress tolerance and emotion regulation, as well as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) principles such as thought defusion and values-based living.
Patients in this sample attended between 2 and 54 sessions, with an average of 18 sessions. Duration of treatment with me ranged from 1 month to 38 months, with a mean of duration of 10 months. Slightly more than half of the patients (n = 11) took psychotropic medication while in treatment with me. Three patients had to be hospitalized over the course of their treatment with me.
All patients were assigned an end-of-treatment status describing how they had progressed as of their final session with me. Outcomes were defined as follows:
1. Patient must meet ALL of the following criteria to be classified as in full remission:
a.) Patient gets regular menstrual periods.
b.) Patient is medically healthy, with good vital signs and blood work.
c.) Patient is completely abstinent from eating disorder behaviors, including restricting, binge/purge behaviors, laxatives, and diet pills.
d.) Patient eats regular, balanced meals most of the time or always, as reported by patient and parent (when applicable)
e.) No more than mild preoccupation with food, weight, body image, or fear of weight gain
2. Patient is classified as in physical remission if she meets criteria a, b, c, and d under full remission, but does not meet criteria e under full remission. Essentially, a patient in physical remission is physically well and free of eating disorder behaviors, but continues to be very distressed with her body image and/or preoccupied with thoughts about food and weight.
3. Patient is classified as having made significant progress if:
a.) Patient has made significant improvement in dietary habits (e.g., eats regular, balanced meals and snacks) as reported by patient and parents (when applicable)
b.) Patient is medically healthy, with good vital signs and blood work
c.) Frequency of eating disorder behaviors (e.g., restricting, bingeing, purging) has been reduced to once per week or less.
4. Patient is classified as having made some progress if:
a.) Patient has improved dietary habits somewhat since intake, but needs more improvement
b.) Patient has reduced the frequency of eating disorder behaviors (e.g., restricting, bingeing, purging) since intake, but still engages in these behaviors more than once per week.
5. Patient is classified as having made no progress if she has not improved dietary habits and/or has not reduced the frequency of eating disorder behaviors.
6. Patient is classified as regressed if she meets ANY of the following criteria:
a.) Dietary intake has declined since intake (e.g., more skipped meals, less variety, less nutritional balance)
b.) Frequency of binge/purge behaviors has increased since intake
c.) Patient has become medically unstable
Thirty-three percent of patients (n = 7) completed treatment, 43% (n = 9) quit treatment prematurely, 19% (n = 4) were referred to other providers or treatment settings because I was unable to meet their needs, and 5% (n = 1) moved to another geographic area during treatment.
One-hundred percent of the patients who completed treatment (n = 7) reached full remission. For those who completed treatment, known henceforth as “treatment completers,” duration of treatment ranged from one month to 38 months, with an average duration of 10 months. Number of sessions attended for treatment completers ranged from 3 – 45, with an average of 15 sessions. In other words, the typical patient with BN or EDNOS who completed treatment achieved full remission in 15 sessions over the course of 10 months.
Unfortunately, the attrition rate was very high, so these treatment completers comprised only one-third of the full sample. Of the 14 patients who discontinued prematurely, 43% (n = 6) made significant progress, another 43% (n = 6) made some progress, 7% (n = 1) made no progress, and 7% regressed (n = 1).
My next post will involve a detailed examination of the differences between patients who completed treatment and reached full remission versus those who discontinued treatment prematurely and did not reach full remission.