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Researchers question anorexia recovery methods

Heather Rudow January 3, 2012

(Photo:Flickr/Katie Tegtmeyer)

When patients are recovering from the eating disorder anorexia, increasing their weight from ranges as low as double digits is not as simple as feeding them large quantities of high-calorie foods until they’ve regained weight. The process of recovery is a delicate balance for eating disorder specialists and hospitals, as putting on weight too quickly can result in severe side effects for the patient — even death. But now, results from a recent study have researchers challenging the most common anorexia recovery method used in hospitals, the “start low, advance slow,” strategy, finding that patients are not gaining weight fast enough.

The “start low, advance slow” strategy involves doctors giving patients meals with fewer calories than they need during the initial days of treatment. This is because some of the patients might be so weak that sudden, major changes to what they eat could be life-threatening, The New York Times reports.

The study analyzed 35 patients who were on the “start low” strategy, which consisted of 1,200 calories a day at an increase of 200 calories each day. It revealed that 83 percent of the participants actually lost weight, and on average, they did not begin to regain that weight until their sixth day in the hospital.

“It’s very upsetting to parents,” lead author Andrea K. Garber told The Times. “The irony is that the goal of hospitalization is to get the kids renourished, and we’re spending the first eight days without any weight gain.”

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Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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