The following is excerpted from an online article posted by MedicalXpress.
Whether you’re afraid of dogs, needles or enclosed spaces, one of the most effective interventions for this type of anxiety disorder is exposure therapy, in which you confront your fear in a safe environment. A new study led by researchers at Penn State College of Medicine finds that exposure therapy is also a promising treatment for adolescents with eating disorders. They found that exposure to feared foods—such as candy bars and pizza—helped kids who were in a partial hospitalization program for eating disorders experience decreased anxiety toward food.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, approximately 30 million Americans will struggle with eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder and others, at some point in their lives. Adolescents and young adults are particularly vulnerable.
In the study, which was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, researchers recruited 54 adolescents with a median age of 14 years who were participating in a partial hospitalization program for eating disorders. Each day, the clinical team exposed the patients to a feared food. For example, participants were given a full-sized candy bar on Mondays, a baked good such as a cookie on Tuesdays, pizza on Wednesdays, a dessert on Thursdays and a breakfast item such as pancakes on Fridays.
Overall, the team found that fears decreased significantly over time prior to exposure to feared foods.
“Our findings provide support for integrating food exposure into partial hospitalization programs for adolescents with eating disorders who are undergoing weight restoration,” said Jamal Essayli, assistant professor of pediatrics and of psychiatry and behavioral health.