Many women and girls with eating disorders receive benefit from prescription drugs and behavioral therapy. However, all of us in the mental health field have seen patients that simply can’t seem to recover from the disorder no matter what treatment strategies we try.
This is why the result of new brain research is so notable.
Recently, 20 patients with severe anorexia or bulimia received targeted, noninvasive magnetic brain stimulation through a procedure called “repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (RTMS).” These were people who had already tried every possible medication and therapeutic approach (although I’d bet that most had never tried going to eating disorder 12 steps groups and working the steps with a sponsor!) The stimulation was directed toward the region of the brain involved with control of thoughts, emotions and behavior. It is this part of the brain, the frontal lobes, that is “off line” in people with active eating disorders.
The result of this directed brain stimulation was a 50 percent drop in binge eating and purging behaviors by nearly half the patients and another third saw their problems decrease by at least 80 percent. In some cases the behaviors went away altogether.
Healing this part of the brain and connecting it to other areas of the brain may prove to be the biggest benefit of this treatment modality.
This aspect of brain dysfunction in the illness is one of the key reasons why people with severe eating disorders can’t “just eat” or “just stop bingeing and purging.”
Although such research is considered preliminary, I believe this approach will eventually offer hope to many who still desperately want recovery.