Specialists at Newbridge House have adapted the internationally recognised LEAP programme for younger patients.

LEAP (Loughborough Eating disorders Activity therapy) is a well-regarded adult treatment to address excessive activity and over-exercise as components of anorexia. It was originally developed by Loughborough University’s Lorin Taranis and Dr Caroline Meyer.

A clear need for support

“We could see there was a clear need for this type of programme and for an adaption for younger people,” explains Janet Tighe, senior occupational therapist and quality assurance lead at Newbridge House.

“It may be that exercise has a role in initiating the eating disorder, such as excessive running. Equally, it often has a role in maintaining the eating disorder and may involve over-exercising or simply obsessive activity levels, such as not being able to sit down for more than twenty minutes or keep your legs still. What was clear to us was that it was no good simply saying – ‘Run less’ or ‘Just sit down’. That would be as ineffective as telling someone to just eat.”

LEAP consists of eight sessions, running twice a week, starting with participants building their own exercise profile. LEAP is a CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) based programme, so developing the profile starts the process of each person understanding how they exercise and why.

Common features of over-activity will be exercising even when you feel tired or ill and exercising becoming essential for mood regulation.

The group then explores myths and misperceptions around exercise, followed by sessions exploring what is a balanced exercise programme and how this needs to be supported by food intake.

“Several patients have told us how pleased they are to have this guidance on what they can do – what is safe and actually healthy,” explains Janet. “They can get so confused about exercise and spiral into a dangerous pattern of over-activity that they mistakenly believe is fit and healthy.

“There has also been a lot of relief that we understand where they are coming from. Often, sport and exercise is a big part of their lives.

“They can’t ‘just stop’ over-activity and they need help and support to find a means of exercising in a healthy and balanced way.”

Relevant for young people

The LEAP programme was introduced at Newbridge House in August 2013. The programme follows the original Loughborough structure, content and themes but is adapted in parts to be meaningful and relevant to adolescents. It is normally offered in the early stages after admission and may be completed before a young person is able to join Leisure Group, allowing them to participate in supervised activities including yoga, badminton and swimming.