PURPOSE: Virtual reality (VR) technologies have been proposed as a new tool able to improve on in vivo exposure in patients with eating disorders. This study assessed the validity of a VR-based software for cue exposure therapy (CET) in people with bulimia nervosa (BN) and binge eating disorder (BED).
METHODS: Fifty eight outpatients (33 BN and 25 BED) and 135 healthy participants were exposed to 10 craved virtual foods and a neutral cue in four experimental virtual environments (kitchen, dining room, bedroom, and cafeteria). After exposure to each VR scenario, food craving and anxiety were assessed. The frequency/severity of episodes of uncontrollable overeating was also assessed and body mass index was measured prior to the exposure.
RESULTS: In both groups, craving and anxiety responses when exposed to the food-related virtual environments were significantly higher than in the neutral-cue virtual environment. However, craving and anxiety levels were higher in the clinical group. Furthermore, cue-elicited anxiety was better at discriminating between clinical and healthy groups than cue-elicited craving.
CONCLUSIONS: This study provides evidence of the ability of food-related VR environments to provoke food craving and anxiety responses in BN and BED patients and highlights the need to consider both responses during treatment. The results support the use of VR-CET in the treatment of eating disorder patients characterized by binge-eating and people with high bulimic symptoms.
- Binge-Eating Disorder/psychology
- Bulimia Nervosa/psychology
- Feeding Behavior/psychology
- Middle Aged
- Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy
- Young Adult