Getting your kids to drink a high calorie chocolate milkshake or macaroni and cheese until they regain weight could be one approach to treating anorexia nervosa.
Known also as the Maudsley Approach, this treatment under the behavioural family therapy (BFT) approach is being compared with a more established treatment known as family systems therapy (FST) as part of an ongoing study for kids aged between 12 and 18, at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Westchester Division and five other centres in the US.
"Anorexia is a life-threatening condition. Treating it early is very important since it is during the teenage years that this disorder usually takes hold," said Katherine Halmi, founder of the Eating Disorders Program and professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College.
"Traditionally, patients with anorexia have been treated in a hospital setting or through one-on-one outpatient therapy. While inpatient treatment is still appropriate in acute cases, we have increasingly seen the value of family-oriented outpatient therapy for adolescents."
The current study is designed to compare two different therapeutic approaches that involve the family - one is a BFT focussed on weight gain, and the other examines various underlying issues in the family.
In the Maudsley Approach, named after the hospital in London where it was developed in the 1980s, anorexic teenagers attend therapy sessions together with their parents and siblings, said a Weill Cornell release.
In FST, families also attend regular therapy sessions, but discussions do not necessarily focus on eating. Instead, family members are free to broadly explore and challenge any problematic communication patterns or stressors within the family unit.