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New Home-Based Treatment Shows Promise for Binge Eating Disorder

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Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London have explored a novel, home-administered treatment for binge eating disorder (BED). This innovative approach combines transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) with a training program designed to modify unhelpful patterns of attention around food. The study’s findings, published in BJPsychOpen, suggest that this treatment could offer a new avenue for managing BED.

Binge eating disorder is a serious mental health condition that affects individuals across all demographics. Those with BED experience recurrent episodes of consuming large amounts of food in a short period, often feeling a loss of control. This disorder is typically accompanied by anxiety, and low mood, and is linked to obesity and other metabolic issues.

Innovative Treatment Approaches

Traditional psychological therapies help about 50% of those treated to achieve full and lasting recovery from BED. However, new approaches are needed for those who do not respond to existing treatments. The researchers focused on two innovative techniques:

  • tDCS: This gentle brain stimulation method applies a mild electrical current to specific areas of the brain to alter their function.
  • Attention Bias Modification Training (ABMT): This technique trains individuals to change how they focus on food cues, improving self-regulatory control.

The TANDEM trial investigated the feasibility, acceptability, and potential effectiveness of combining at-home self-administered tDCS with ABMT for treating BED. Researchers recruited 82 participants who were either overweight or living with obesity and met the criteria for BED diagnosis. Participants were divided into four groups:

  • tDCS with ABMT: 10 sessions of at-home self-administered tDCS during ABMT.
  • Sham tDCS with ABMT: 10 sessions of ABMT with a headset that did not deliver electrical stimulation.
  • ABMT only: 10 sessions of ABMT.
  • No treatment: Placed on a waitlist for 8 weeks.

Significant Reductions in Binge Eating and Weight

Participants who received real tDCS with ABMT showed the most significant reductions in binge eating behavior, from an average of 20 episodes per month to six episodes per month after six weeks. This group also reported losing approximately 3.5 to 4 kg, with a reduction in BMI of 1.28 points. In comparison, the sham tDCS group lost about 1.5 to 2 kg, and the ABMT-only group saw negligible weight change. The no-treatment control group did not report any changes in eating behavior or weight loss.

Participants in the tDCS with ABMT group also experienced substantial mood improvements. In contrast, no significant mood changes were reported in the sham tDCS or ABMT-only groups, and there was no mood improvement in the no-treatment group.

Dr. Michaela Flynn, the study’s first author, emphasized the importance of this new treatment approach: “Our study is the first to look at a new option for home-based treatment that offers a different approach to treating binge eating disorder. TDCS targets brain-driven patterns of behavior, enabling people to shift entrenched thinking and behavior around food.”

Professor Ulrike Schmidt OBE highlighted the potential reach and scalability of the treatment: “Binge eating disorder is a really neglected but common and distressing eating disorder. The home-delivered treatment allows it to reach people who may find it difficult to come into the community. The treatment is straightforward to deliver, making it potentially highly scalable in the NHS.”

Professor Iain Campbell noted the importance of further research: “These encouraging clinical findings will help refine treatment protocols and promote studies of brain processes associated with neuromodulation. Future studies should verify these preliminary findings in larger clinical trials with longer follow-up periods.”

The combination of tDCS and ABMT offers a promising new treatment for binge eating disorder, showing significant reductions in binge eating episodes, weight loss, and mood improvements. With further research, this innovative approach could become a widely accessible treatment option, providing relief to many individuals struggling with BED.

Have you or someone you know struggled with binge eating disorder? What treatment strategies have you found effective? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below. Your insights could help others on their journey to recovery.

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