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Therapy Better Than Self-Help For Binge Eaters

December 19, 2009

Scientists have shown that people who tend to binge-eat do better in the short-term with therapy than people who use self-help techniques, according to a recent Reuters report.

However, Dr. Carol B. Peterson of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and her colleagues found that in the long-term, self-help and therapist-assisted approaches seem to have about the same effectiveness.

Binge eating disorder is characterized by compulsive overeating in which people consume huge amounts of food while feeling out of control and powerless to stop. According to the National Institutes of Health, 2 percent of all U.S. adults suffer from compulsive overeating””making binge eating disorder more common than bulimia or anorexia.

Peterson and colleagues note in a report in the latest issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry that while medications can help reduce bingeing episodes among people with the disorder, psychotherapy is the most effective approach to treatment. Although, self-help interventions have shown some promise as well.

Peterson’s team assigned 259 adults with the disorder to 20 weeks of therapist-led, therapist-assisted, or self-help group therapy, or to a waiting list.

After treatment, just over half of people who had therapist-led group treatment were abstaining from bingeing, compared to a third of those in the therapist-assisted groups, 18 percent in the self-help groups, and 10 percent in the waiting list group. The frequency of binge eating was also lower in the therapist-led or assisted groups compared to the self-help group or the waiting list group.

After treatment ended, researchers did a 6 and 12 month follow up and found no difference in bingeing abstinence rates or binge eating frequency among the groups.

However, the study participants who got help from therapists were more likely to stick with the treatment for 20 weeks; 88 percent of people in the therapist-led groups and 81 percent of those in the therapist-assisted groups completed 20 weeks of treatment, compared to 68 percent of people in the self-help groups.

Peterson said, “The presence of a therapist may enhance short-term abstinence and reduce the likelihood of dropout.”

But when therapists aren’t available, self-help groups may be helpful, they added.

Dr. Walter Kaye of the University of California San Diego told Reuters, “These findings suggest that self-help group treatment may be a viable alternative to therapist-led interventions in some settings.”

“It should be noted, however, that the power of such treatments may be limited since many patients continued to have substantial degrees of binge behaviors at 12-month follow-up,” Kaye notes.

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