Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa: the hypnotic treatment.

Eating disorders, which must not be confused with common nervous eating, are a class of  conditions that includes subjects with different eating habits that can harm the psychophysical health of those who are affected by them. These behaviours range from excessive food intake to extended fasting and can be associated to behaviours aimed to evacuate food with self-induced vomit or with incongruous use of laxatives. The most common forms [1] represent the two extremes of this continuum. The first one is Anorexia Nervosa, a condition in which patients, because of what is called dysmorphophobia, perceive their own bodies as fat even when they are clearly undernourished. These subjects, mostly women, are constantly afraid of gaining weight – even if there is no reason for it – and the undernourishment that follows can lead to the inhibition of the physiological processes of the body that doesn't receive anymore the necessary resources to make all the systems work. The second form is Bulimia Nervosa, a category that includes subjects, again mostly women, who show recurrent episodes in which they lose control and eat until uncomfortably full.
Despite the first evidences of the efficacy of hypnosis in treating these conditions were obtained more than 100 years ago, modern empirical research is still very young. There are some evidences that demonstrate that therapies including hypnotic interventions can lead to the resolution of the disorder.
In particular, a study published in the European Eating Disorders Review [2] demonstrated that the inclusion of hypnotic techniques in psychotherapeutic protocols leads to significant improvements of symptoms in crucial dimensions of the disorders: symptomatic behaviours frequency, attitude towards food, concerns about body weight and shape. The treatment, that lasted 8 weeks, obtained stable results which have been monitored in a 9 months follow up. Researchers think that this stability was obtained thanks to the implementation of hypnosis.
Another evidence [3] comes from a similar study conducted by Australian researchers in which the effect of a psychotherapeutic program that included the teaching of self-hypnosis techniques was observed. After 8 weeks of treatment, high rates of abstinence from dysfunctional behaviours along with improvements in aspects such as drive for thinness, body dissatisfaction, ineffectiveness and interoceptive awareness were reported.
In the above-cited studies, researchers focused on patients diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa. With regard to Anorexia [4], we report a research conducted on 36 women diagnosed with this disorder. The study, which included a 1 year post treatment follow up, obtained in 76% of cases the remission of symptoms and a stable and acceptable weight. On the contrary, only 53% of patients in a sample treated with traditional therapy showed symptom remission.
In summary, research on the effectiveness of hypnosis in treating Eating Disorders is still in an embryonic state. Despite that, promising results are being produced especially in the treatment of Bulimia, both because there are more studies that focus on this condition and because subjects affected by this pathology seem especially skilful in utilizing hypnotic states [5].
[1] Hudson, JI; Hiripi, E; Pope Jr, HG; Kessler, RC (2007). "The Prevalence and Correlates of Eating Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication". Biological Psychiatry 61 (3): 348–58.
[2] Griffiths, R.A., Hadzi-Pavlovic, D., & Channon-Little, L. (1994). A controlled evaluation of hypnobehavioral treatment for bulimia nervosa: Immediate pre-post treatment effects. European Eating Disorders Review, 2, 202-220.
Griffiths, R.A., Hadzi-Pavlovic, D., & Channon-Little, L. (1996). The short term follow up of hypnobehavioral treatment for bulimia nervosa: Immediate pre-post treatment effects. European Eating Disorders Review, 4, 12-31.
[3] Griffiths, R.A. (1995b). Two-year follow up findings of hypnobehavioral treatment for bulimia nervosa. Australian journal of clinical and experimental hypnosis, 23 (2), 135-144.
[4] Baker, E.L. & Nash, M.R. (1987) Applications of hypnosis in the treatment of anorexia nervosa. American journal of clinical hypnosis, 29, 185,193.
[5] Vanderlinden, J.; Spinhoven, P.; Vandereyken, W.; van Dyck R. (1995) Dissociative and hypnotic experiences in eating disorder patients: an exploratory study. American journal of clinical hypnosis 38(2):97-108.