'Innovative' Weight Loss Program Using CBT Methods Open To Public

A scientifically developed program that saw 75 percent of patients lose weight and reduce eating disorder symptoms in test trials has launched to the public for the first time.

Combining cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) along with healthy weight maintenance, the program was developed specifically for people with a high body mass index (BMI).

A type of psychotherapy, CBT is aimed at helping the person change unhelpful or unhealthy habits of thinking, feeling and behaving.

It's estimated that one in five people with a high BMI also suffer from an eating disorder, according to a 2009 study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

The HAPIFED program -- a slightly garbled acronym that stands for a Healthy APproach to weIght management and Food in Eating Disorders) -- was co-developed by eating disorder psychiatrist Dr. Phillipa Hay.

"Weight loss treatment programs alone do not adequately address psychological aspects related to eating disorders," she said.

“People with high BMI and an eating disorder need treatment that integrates psychological and nutritional support."

A growing body of evidence is finding that eating disorders are "intertwined with high BMI in complex ways" she said, and that the prevalence of other disorders such as anxiety, depression or obsessive compulsive disorder in people with eating disorders means a multi-pronged approach is needed.

READ MORE: When Exercise Becomes Compulsive

"This explains why 'diets' often fail, and people regain weight after completion," she said.

"Conversely, CBT alone does not address weight management for those with binge eating and bulimia conditions."

READ MORE: 'My Eating Disorder Was Undiagnosed For 50 Years'

Patients who qualify for the newly launched HAPIFED program at the Wesley Eating Disorders Centre in Sydney will undergo a one-hour assessment by either a psychiatrist or psychologist, and then enroll in both weekly CBT sessions and weekly patient-group sessions.

These sessions, which are charged at a half-day fee, cover a supervised meal and discussions on topics such as emotion regulation, weight maintenance, appetite regulation, body image and healthy exercise.

Patients are expected to attend at least eight of the 12 group sessions.

“It’s designed to include the best elements of CBT for treatment of binge eating disorder, combined with the most effective elements of behavioral weight loss programs,” Dr Sarah Maguire, an eating disorder specialist who is familiar with the program, told ten daily.

“For quite a while we’ve been able to demonstrate programs that have an effect on binge eating, but I’m not aware of anywhere else where treatment has combined binge eating disorder and an intervention directly targeting weight loss for overweight people who also binge.

“It’s very innovative.”

It comes days after more than 45 of NSW's leading medical specialists came together to look at new ways of treating eating disorders, combining a physical and psychological approach.

Dr. Ian Caterson, an endocrinologist at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, told ten daily that treating disorders requires a hugely complex and coordinated team of doctors, including physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, dietitians and GPs.

"Eating disorders originate in the mind and manifest in the body, yet, historically, physicians and psychiatrists have worked somewhat independently with these patients, resulting in fragmented care," he said.

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au

Lead photo: Getty

To talk to somebody about disordered eating, speak to your local GP, contact one of the specialists listed by the InsideOut Institute, or for confidential support, call the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673.