Early response to treatment has been shown to be a predictor of later clinical outcomes in eating disorders (EDs). Specifically, early weight gain trajectories in anorexia nervosa (AN) have been shown to predict higher rates of later remission in inpatient treatment. However, no study has, as of yet, examined this phenomenon within outpatient treatment of first episode cases of AN or in emerging adults.
One hundred seven patients with AN, all between the ages of 16 and 25 and with an illness duration of < 3 years, received treatment via the first episode rapid early intervention in eating disorders (FREED) service pathway. Weight was recorded routinely across early treatment sessions and recovery outcomes (BMI > 18.5 kg/m2 and eating psychopathology) were assessed up to 1 year later. Early weight gain across the first 12 treatment sessions was investigated using latent growth mixture modelling to determine distinct classes of change. Follow-up clinical outcomes and remission rates were compared between classes, and individual and clinical characteristics at baseline (treatment start) were tested as potential predictors.
Four classes of early treatment trajectory were identified. Three of these classes (n = 95), though differing in their early change trajectories, showed substantial improvement in clinical outcomes at final follow-up. One smaller class (n = 12), characterised by a ‘higher’ start BMI (> 17) and no early weight gain, showed negligible improvement 1 year later. Of the three treatment responding groups, levels of purging, depression, and patient reported carer expressed emotion (in the form of high expectations and low tolerance of the patient) determined class membership, although these findings were not significant after correcting for multiple testing. A higher BMI at treatment start was not sufficient to predict optimal clinical outcomes.
First episode cases of AN treated via FREED fit into four distinct early response trajectory classes. These may represent subtypes of first episode AN patients. Three of these four trajectories included patients with substantial improvements 1 year later. For those in the non-response trajectory class, treatment adjustments or augmentations could be considered earlier, i.e., at treatment session 12
Austin, A., Flynn, M., Richards, K.L. et al. Early weight gain trajectories in first episode anorexia: predictors of outcome for emerging adults in outpatient treatment. J Eat Disord 9, 112 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40337-021-00448-y