Promising Results Emerge from Floatation-REST: An Innovative Approach to Treating Anorexia

Groundbreaking research conducted at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research (LIBR) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has achieved significant advancements in the treatment of anorexia nervosa (AN), a debilitating eating disorder characterized by low body weight, distorted body image, and heightened anxiety. The study’s findings were recently published in the journal eClinicalMedicine.

The researchers at LIBR explored the profound and lasting effects of Floatation-REST (Reduced Environmental Stimulation Therapy) in individuals hospitalized for anorexia nervosa. Commonly referred to as “float therapy,” Floatation-REST is a non-pharmacological intervention where patients effortlessly float in a shallow pool of warm water saturated with Epsom salt. This takes place within a controlled environment that is devoid of light and sound, maintaining precise humidity and temperature levels. Interestingly, this technique is increasingly being embraced by the general public as a means to alleviate stress.

In the study, participants with anorexia nervosa who were randomly assigned to receive floatation-REST reported immediate and consistent reductions in body image dissatisfaction, along with marked improvements in anxiety compared to a control group who received standard care, but experienced no change in their symptoms. Furthermore, the positive impact on body image observed in the floatation-REST group persisted beyond the treatment period, extending up to six months.

“This breakthrough represents a promising new avenue for treating anorexia nervosa, a psychiatric condition renowned for its challenging prognosis and high mortality rate,” stated Dr. Sahib Khalsa, MD, PhD, who serves as the Director of Clinical Operations at LIBR and is the senior author of the study. He went on to emphasize, “Anxiety is a common companion to anorexia nervosa, often unresponsive to conventional anxiety medications like benzodiazepines. The substantial reduction in anxiety achieved through float therapy suggests it could offer a potent non-pharmacological approach to addressing anxiety in anorexia nervosa. Further research is warranted to explore its potential in treating anxiety within other eating disorders.”

Dr. Emily Choquette, a clinical psychologist and postdoctoral scholar at LIBR and one of the co-first authors of the study, remarked, “These findings open doors to innovative treatment approaches for eating disorders. When combined with traditional treatments, floatation-REST may assist in alleviating the more challenging aspects of AN, such as body image issues. The consistent and lasting impact of floatation-REST on body image dissatisfaction suggests it could be investigated as a complementary tool to enhance the effectiveness of established psychotherapies.”

Given the persistent and severe nature of anorexia nervosa, the quest for effective treatments continues. Dr. Scott Moseman, MD, CEDS, Medical Director of the Laureate Eating Disorders Program, stressed, “This study underscores the importance of continuously seeking innovative methods and expanding the scope of available therapeutic options. These findings may pave the way for novel treatment forms like float-assisted psychotherapy, aiming to further enhance improvements in body image and anxiety obtained through evidence-based interventions.”

The research team, led by Dr. Sahib Khalsa, included collaborators like Dr. Scott Moseman, as well as co-first authors Dr. Emily Choquette and Dr. Michael Flux, a former lab volunteer and collaborator at LIBR. Additionally, clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Justin Feinstein, President and Director of the nonprofit Float Research Collective, contributed to the study’s success.

The research received support from the Laureate Institute for Brain Research and was conducted at LIBR between March 2018 and February 2021.

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