Professor Caroline Meyer

The sixth Newbridge Master Class took place with Professor Caroline Meyer of the University of Warwick on December 11.

The day was focused on mealtimes with eating disordered people and compulsive exercise, with Professor Meyer presenting key research evidence and participants engaging in wide-ranging debate.

Professor Meyer, of the Institute of Digital Healthcare at the University of Warwick, began the day by emphasising the importance of disseminating research knowledge as widely as possible.
“We know a lot about meal times, parental modelling and food choices and there are many people who would benefit from knowing what we know, for example teachers or people who are struggling with eating, but may not be at the stage of being referred to a service.

“With more knowledge, they are in a position to have a really big impact on young people, in terms of better understanding eating disorders and achieving earlier intervention.”

The morning sessions focused on meal times, considering how parental modelling can impact upon children’s eating. There was a discussion about whether distraction is a helpful strategy (eating in front of the television, or with the radio on, for example). Professor Meyer explained that research findings from the field of obesity show people eat more when distracted and as such it can be seen as helpful, providing the distraction does not negate against providing focused support.

Professor Meyer presented a major study which analysed parental strategies during mealtimes. It showed significance in the strategies used by mothers compared with fathers and also found that strategies which supported weight gain in the short term were not as effective in the longer term. There was a discussion about what this means in terms of the support eating disorders professionals provide for families.

The afternoon focused on exercise within the context of eating disorders. Professor Meyer described how compulsive exercise presents a major challenge for the individuals affected, for eating disorders services (in terms of managing and treating) and for sports coaches, who are uncertain what to do if they have concerns.

Professor Meyer explained that in interviews, affected patients described how they once liked exercise but now feel it is out of control. They report little mood improvement or enjoyment, but experience a very strong sense of guilt if they miss a session. Like with eating behaviour, they lose perspective on what is normal.

Individuals report it is often helpful being directed to stop exercising, but at a later stage, there is the challenge of when and how to reintroduce exercise.
Professor Meyer talked about the development and evaluation of LEAP, the programme she created with her team at Loughborough University as a cognitive behavioural therapy based strategy to treat compulsive exercise.

“If compulsive exercise is treated as a symptom and ignored, this will be a barrier to recovery. We need a cognitive view of the maintenance of compulsive exercise,” said Professor Meyer.
The LEAP programme has been used by more than 500 eating disorders services worldwide. Newbridge House will be piloting a study of a version of LEAP adapted specifically for younger patients.

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