The outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic shows us that we have a remarkable capacity to innovate and adapt even in the face of adversity. Therapists turned to virtual sessions, mindfulness apps grew in popularity, and the internet became a lifeline for many people struggling with mental health conditions.
recently Review published in Environmental Research and Public Health have found that, worldwide, the number of people affected by eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder is increasing. These disorders are indiscriminate, affecting individuals regardless of age, gender, or cultural background. Although the exact cause remains unclear, we do know that a convergence of genetics, environment, and psychology play an important role. Importantly, the review highlights the importance of early intervention and high-quality care.
The growing need for comprehensive eating disorder treatment coincides with the growing role of technology in virtual therapies. Today, there are few treatment facilities that rely on technology platforms to provide confidential and timely support in real time to those on the road to recovery.
Dr. Wendy Oliver-Piett, Co-Founder of Virtual Eating Disorders Treatment Facility within health “We knew from the outset that we had to find ways to connect with our patients even when we weren’t ‘in the room,’” he explained.
“We started the process by creating an app that was user-friendly, warm, engaging and encouraging. This ease of contact facilitates our connections and our ability to interface with customers as they actually are in their lives. With our chat feature, we can provide additional support and do a variety of interactions with customers that can happen outside of programming as well.
While the development of such technological tools is promising, real-world evidence further shows their efficacy.
one 2023 case report published in Journal of Eating Disorders Dives an in-depth look at the experience of a person suffering from an eating disorder and gives us an inside perspective on how it may be viable to leverage technology to treat eating disorders remotely. There are two things that stand out here:
1. Technology enables remote delivery of effective treatment
Classic Study published in Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology Programs have shown us that treatment of mental health conditions is only as effective as the therapeutic alliance (the bond between patient and health care professional) allows.
“The role of technology is to facilitate connection and extend the connection of patient to provider. It is through technology that more people can be reached, and more connections can be made,” explained Oliver-Piatt.
Case studies of binge eating disorder treatment underscore this point. A patient with mobility challenges due to her broken leg benefited from the ability to be treated from home, which removed not only potential physical barriers, but also psychological barriers such as shyness to seek treatment due to shame.
Such digital services also facilitate the maintenance of a virtual alumni network that can grow and expand, offering a “home base” where patients can continually re-establish themselves.
While technology can help maintain the important bond between patients and providers, it also provides an opportunity to redefine traditional treatment paradigms, particularly those related to mindfulness and weight:
2. Remote delivery of treatment may promote mindfulness and weight-inclusivity
Traditionally, the treatment of eating disorders has had a one-size-fits-all approach, with a focus largely on weight as the primary outcome. However, such a narrow approach can sometimes inadvertently stigmatize and undermine the therapeutic process, especially for patients who internalize weight-related shame.
one 2022 Study looked at 55 individuals with anorexia nervosa and found that shame was a common emotion experienced by them. Those who experienced higher levels of shame were more likely to have body dissatisfaction and a strong desire for thinness.
“It is through acceptance that we find the path to mindfulness. One cannot remain conscious while being in a state of shame towards oneself. There is no basis for self-compassion and self-care without mindfulness,” Oliver-Piatt explained.
The case study emphasizes the potential benefits of distance treatment in offering flexibility, reducing the effects of weight-related shame, and providing a conducive environment for individuals who may feel stigmatized in traditional in-person settings.
This feature, combined with the weight-inclusive approach of her program, likely contributed to increased patient awareness. Her ability to address her symptoms without the pressure of weight-focused consequences means she can truly turn inward while practicing self-awareness and compassion.
In remote settings, a health care team is able to observe the patient’s stressors and triggers. Being able to monitor what a patient is experiencing while providing comfort, guidance, and support can add a layer of stability to the treatment process, ultimately helping the patient navigate their journey to recovery independently. with the knowledge that support is available at all times.
Remote-care technology has reached unprecedented levels of sophistication, potentially making treatment for eating disorders more accessible and effective. With this innovative approach, the boundaries that limit traditional care can be removed, bringing hope, inclusivity and tailored support to those who need it most.