Can Neurofeedback help with Eating Disorders ?
In this 2014 case study, former anorexic Emma Woolf explains how Neurofeedback enhanced her transformation by changing her rigid mind-set and need for control.
What are Eating Disorders
There exist several types of eating disorders, but they have all one thing in common: someone would have an abnormal attitude towards food, which impacts their eating habits and behaviours. In general people with eating disorders have an excessive focus on food, their weight and/or shape, resulting in an unhealthy eating pattern that can have a damaging impact on their overall physiologically and emotionally functioning. How an eating disorder looks like can vary a lot, but most common are:
- Anorexia Nervosa – Keeping weight as low as possible, by starving, excessive exercising, etc.
- Bulimia – Control weight by binge eating and then deliberately being sick or using laxatives
- Binge Eating – Feeling compelled to overeat
Treatment for Eating Disorders
An eating disorder can result in social and emotional issues, but physical issues with fatal consequences as well. Therefore support and treatment in an early stage is crucial. Support and treatment recommended by the NHS usually involves monitoring a person’s physical health while helping him or her to deal with the underlying psychological causes. Examples of NHS recommendations are self-help manuals and books (under guidance from a therapist or other healthcare professional), support and self-help groups, and personal and telephone counselling services, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy, dietary counselling, psychodynamic therapy and family therapy. In some cases medication (SSRIs -selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) may be used to treat bulimia nervosa or binge eating However, there is one important treatment option that the NHS does not mention, which has been proven to be as effective – if not more effective – in case of eating disorders. This treatment option is Neurofeedback.
Neurofeedback and Eating Disorders
Neurofeedback can be very helpful with eating disorders, especially because of the way these disorders are explained within this approach. Eating disorders are treated as multifaceted conditions caused by disregulation of the central nervous system. However, how the nervous system is disreglated depends per individual case. In some cases the eating disorder has to do with appetite awareness issues. Where one person can experience a lack of appetite, another person experiences a signal when full delayed or no signal at all. By restoring body awareness with Neurofeedback appetite awareness can be increased, which sometimes can be sufficient to target an eating disorder. In other cases eating disorders can be linked to obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour: executive function deficits which can be targeted by Neurofeedback. You can find more information about OCD and Neurofeedback here. Besides appetite awareness issues and OCD symptoms, eating disorders show a strong relation with emotional reactivity issues such as depression, anxiety and anger, as well. In these cases, Neurofeedback can help not only with the eating disorder directly, but it can also help to relieve the associated emotions. Finally, it should be noted that eating disorders could also be the result of (early childhood) trauma. In such cases, food can have a soothing effect on the short term, but impacts someone’s overall well-being over the long term negatively. Neurofeedback can be very helpful here by addressing the underlying trauma and resolving unprocessed memories related to this trauma.