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Anorexia Treatment: No Magic Bullet

Research Review Doesn't Reveal Single Effective Treatment Strategy for Eating Disorders

The Role of Parents

It may sound counterintuitive that having parents control what their child with anorexiaanorexia eats would help in recovery. Eating disorder treatment specialist Douglas Bunnell, PhD, acknowledges as much but adds that a growing number of studies suggest that it does. The approach is now considered the first-line treatment for children and teens with anorexia in Great Britain, where it was developed.

"Most therapists of my generation were trained to get the parents out of the mix as much as possible to avoid food wars with their children with eating disorders," he tells WebMD. "And it isn't as simple as the parents standing over the kid and nagging at them to eat. It is more sophisticated than that."

Bunnell, who is the immediate past president of the National Eating Disorders Association, says he is not surprised that the research review failed to identify a clearly superior approach to treating anorexia.

"We do not have a gold standard treatment," he says. "This report emphasizes the importance of individually tailored treatments drawn from a variety of disciplines."

It also highlights the fact that not enough research has been done to identify effective treatments for the eating disorder, he says.

Bunnell is clinical director of the Renfrew Center of Connecticut, a treatment center for women with eating disorders.

"The good news is that we understand this disorder much better than we did, but we have much to learn," he says. "Many, many patients recover with treatment. But there is no one definitive treatment for this complicated illness."

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