University of Louisville’s Eating Anxiety Treatment (EAT) Lab
University of Louisville’s Eating Anxiety Treatment (EAT) Lab

Researchers at the University of Louisville’s Eating Anxiety Treatment (EAT) Lab think understanding the causes behind eating disorders could lead improved and personalized treatment.

“We can say, ‘this is the symptom that is causing all your other symptoms, and this is what we need to be working on in therapy,’” said lab director and assistant professor, Dr. Cheri Levinson. “This opens this whole possibility for treatments that are personalized based on the individual.”

The team used network analysis, collecting data via a mobile application, to map these connections. For example, Levinson said, one person may develop anorexia nervosa due to fear of weight gain. While for others, the reason could be completely different.

In one study, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, the researchers found there may be a connection to social anxiety. A second study, published in the European Eating Disorders Review, found a connection between eating disorders and trauma, or PTSD.  

Co-author and doctoral candidate, Irina Vanzhula, said many psychologists already try to personalize treatment plans for each individual patient.  

“But the issue with that is that they personalize treatment based on their opinion, and their clinical impression,” she said. 

The UofL team wants that personalization to be more objective — based on data, not opinion. Levinson, a practicing licensed psychologist, said that they can help doctors make better decisions and get to the cause of the problem more directly, rather than guessing.  

“By using this data-driven approach, we’re going to be able to say, ‘hey, this is where you should start, and this is how you should do it,’” she said. 

The UofL EAT Lab is currently looking for participants for its study on personalized treatment. You can listen to the researchers’ full radio interview on UofL Today.