Home HEALTH Emotion Acceptance Behavior Therapy for Anorexia

Emotion Acceptance Behavior Therapy for Anorexia

girl sitting at table with bread and glass of water

Eating disorders are widely regarded as challenging conditions to treat, with a wide range of therapies utilised to help sufferers achieve and maintain recovery. An innovative approach to anorexia treatment is emotion acceptance behavior therapy (EABT).

Emotion Acceptance Behavior Therapy

Emotion acceptance behavior therapy is aimed at helping older adolescents and adult sufferers of anorexia to increase awareness of emotions and decrease emotion avoidance strategies which can maintain the eating disorder cycle. This approach has been used as an outpatient intervention, involving a combination of standard clinical management (such as weight monitoring) and psychotherapeutic techniques. Key psychotherapeutic techniques used within EABT are designed to help the patient increase emotional awareness, reduce avoidance and encourage valued activities and restoration of relationships. Therapy may involve the patient seeing the EABT therapist twice a week, for an hour, during the first four weeks, weekly for another four weeks and then every other week for four weeks.

Benefits of Emotion Acceptance Behavior Therapy for Anorexia Sufferers

As identified in a pilot study of EABT by Marcus & Wildes (2011) in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, there are recognised benefits associated with this outpatient intervention for older sufferers of anorexia. Three of the five participants achieved modest weight gain without requiring costly hospitalization or intensive treatment. Another benefit highlighted in the pilot study is that participants showed improvement in co-morbid conditions, including anxiety and depression. Due to the fact that access to intensive treatment or inpatient care is largely dependent upon one’s postcode, level of health insurance or the ability to self-fund, EABT is likely to be significantly easier to access. This approach may be flexible, allowing the therapist to increase contact with patients who may be struggling with significant issues, such as weight loss or exercise addiction.

Limitations of EABT

As with all different psychotherapeutic interventions, there are some key limitations associated with EABT. A significant limitation is that the approach is less effective for those with chronic anorexia, which may be due to the significant length of time chronic sufferers have been consistently using the illness as a means of avoiding feeling emotions. In addition, as EABT is aimed at older adolescents and adults with anorexia, it is more likely that the sufferer may be recognised as chronic by this time. Clearly, more research studies into this new approach to treatment are necessary, in order to ascertain exactly how key techniques may help sufferers

As highlighted above, emotion acceptance behavior therapy is aimed at helping older sufferers of anorexia to cope with emotions, rather than get trapped in the cycle of using anorexic behaviours to avoid feelings. While more research has been identified as necessary, Marcus & Wildes’ 2011 pilot study indicates the intervention may be beneficial, in terms of weight restoration and reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, both of which are frequently experienced by eating disorder patients.


Eating Disorders Review (March/April 2012) Emotion Acceptance Behavior Therapy Vol. 23:2