Starvation symptoms in patients with anorexia nervosa: a longitudinal study

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Published online: 08 May 2018

Objective. The aim of this study was to evaluate the change in starvation symptoms over time and their role as potential predictors of change in eating disorder and general psychopathology in patients with anorexia nervosa treated by means of intensive enhanced cognitive behavioral therapy (ICBT-E).

Method. Ninety adult female patients with anorexia nervosa (63 restricting type and 27 binge-eating/purging type) were recruited. Body mass index (BMI), Eating Disorder Examination (EDE) interview, Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire (EDE-Q), Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) and Starvation Symptoms Inventory (SSI) scores were recorded at admission, at the end of treatment, and at 6-month follow-up. All tests, except for the EDE, were also administered after 4 weeks of treatment to assess the role of refeeding on these variables.

Results. At baseline, starvation symptoms were correlated with measures of eating disorder and general psychopathology. The treatment was associated with a significant increase in BMI, improvement in eating disorder and general psychopathology, and a significant reduction in starvation symptoms. The change in SSI scores from baseline to 4 weeks predicted the improvement in EDE eating concern subscale and global BSI scores. Among patients who had restored their body weight by the end of treatment, dietary restraint and eating concern EDE-Q subscales, global EDE-Q and SSI scores showed greater improvement in the first 4 weeks than in the remaining 16 weeks of treatment.

Discussion. The findings underline the close relationship between improvements in both starvation symptoms and eating disorder and general psychopathology and indicate the important role of refeeding in ameliorating both.