People with Binge Eating Disorder suffer from repeated uncontrollable eating episodes. They consume an excessive amount of food within a short time and they lose all control over what they are eating. According to experts, around 2 % of the population is affected by this disorder, two-thirds of whom are women.
"We are interested in whether - and if so, for how long - can a Binge Eating Disorder be treated with an Internet-based behavior therapy", said Professor Dr. med. Annette Kersting, Director of the Clinic and Polyclinic for Psychotherapy and Psychosomatic Medicine of Leipzig University Hospital and leader of the study.
Internet therapy has many advantages against regular therapies. "The inhibition level of receiving professional help is, due to the anonymity of the Internet, much lower than the normal, outpatient therapies", said the expert.
As part of the study, people affected by the Binge Eating Disorder received the Internet therapy over a period of four months. During this period, the patient and the therapist communicated only in writing. An essential therapy component is the weekly assignment to write about one's eating behavior - for example to describe a typical situation in which an eating attack occurs - or even to keep a diary of meals. This kind of introspection will help the patient learn new and regular eating habits.
These habits, together with a daily schedule with exercise and sports and work on self-confidence regarding the patient's own body image, are part of the treatment. The scientists measure the effectiveness of Internet-based psychotherapy by comparing their patient's progress with that of patients who are not currently receiving therapy; they compare, for example, the number of days on which binge eating occurs.
"The various studies on the effectiveness of Internet-based behavioral therapies previously conducted at the Clinic for Psychotherapy and Psychosomatic Medicine in Leipzig, demonstrated that such therapies work equally well and have the same duration as the outpatient therapies," said Professor Dr. med Kersting.
The expert also points out the limits of this new form of treatment: "Patients with complex psychopathology or at risk of suicide would certainly not be adequately treated over the Internet."
The Leipzig scientists are convinced that, especially in cases of mental suffering associated with shame and fear of stigmatisation, Internet therapy could be an alternative to conventional face-to-face therapy. "Patients receiving online treatment talk with complete confidence about their problems," said Kersting. In addition, people affected by the disorder who cannot receive outpatient therapy because of geographical or time constraints may benefit from the Internet-based therapy.
"There is still much research to be done in the future in the field of internet-based psychotherapy: It has to be clarified for which problems this form of treatment is suitable, how long does do the effects last or what the exact differences from the outpatient therapy are", she concluded.