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Outsmarting bulimia

Sunday, 24 June 2007
Author: Flinders University News and Research Stories

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They are treating the problem at its source, in the thought processes of those who suffer from it.

Psychology postgraduate Jacqueline Bergin is running a trial of a self-management technique for sufferers of bulimia, employing a cognitive behavioural approach.

"Basically, what we are trying to do is identify the types of thoughts and behaviours that keep people's eating difficulties going; once we have identified them, we hone in and start challenging them," Ms Bergin said.

"The idea is that if we start to change people's thoughts, then, as a by-product, their behaviour will start to change as well.

"Clinical guidelines recommend that people be offered self-help as a first step in the treatment of bulimia nervosa because research has shown that this approach alone is effective for a sizeable minority of people with the condition."

Ms Bergin said the cognitive behavioural approach is recommended over and above other forms of treatment for bulimia in adults, and is seen as an efficient first line of attack in terms of time and resources.

"We are evaluating three different types of guided self-help programs, all based on cognitive behaviour principles, to look at which one might be more effective," Ms Bergin said.

Researchers are looking for around 60 volunteers over the age of 16 who have symptoms of bulimia to take part in the study. Ms Bergin said volunteers need not be experiencing the 'full-blown' binge-eating and purging cycle of bulimia to qualify for the study.

"We are looking at a range of behaviours," she said.

"We are looking for people with significant symptoms of bulimia nervosa: first, that they engage in episodes of excessive over-eating coupled with a sense of loss of control over their eating; and second, that they engage in a form of weight control behaviour to compensate for those binge-eating episodes."

Before joining the program, prospective participants will need to complete a screening questionnaire and attend a 90-minute interview. The program itself comprises eight weekly sessions of 30-50 minutes.

Given that it is a research project, the participants will also be interviewed over the phone at three, six and 12 months after the program to monitor their progress and the effectiveness of the treatment.

People interested in participating in the program should phone (08) 8201 2565.