Utilizing Brain Stimulation in the Treatment of Eating Disorders

Contributor: By Dr. Kim Dennis, CEDS, CEO/Medical Director Emeritus of Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

Eating disorders are extremely complex diseases. Our understanding of what causes them has evolved greatly over the years.

Originally, it was thought that such diseases were directly or indirectly inspired by influences of the American media, culture and families. Only recently have we discovered the important role that the brain plays in the development of food-related disorders.

Much study has been dedicated to the role of brain chemicals, but perhaps even more fascinating is the research conducted in the area of brain stimulation, especially on those individuals who have been entrenched in the disease for a long time.

Recently, 20 patients with severe anorexia or bulimia received targeted, non-invasive magnetic brain stimulation through a procedure called “repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (RTMS).”  The stimulation was directed toward the region of the brain involved with control of thoughts, emotions and behavior. It is this part of the brain, the frontal lobes, that is essentially “off line” in people with active eating disorders.

The result of this directed brain stimulation was a 50 percent drop in binge eating and purging behaviors by nearly half the patients; another third saw their problems decrease by at least 80 percent. In some cases the behaviors went away altogether.

Healing this part of the brain and connecting it to other areas of the brain may prove to be the biggest benefit of this treatment modality.

About 8 million North Americans currently suffer from chronic eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. Although such research is considered preliminary, it is hoped that this approach will eventually provide an answer for many who still desperately want and need recovery.

Sources:  Nov. 12, 2013, HealthDay article:  http://consumer.healthday.com/mental-health-information-25/anorexia-news-28/brain-stimulation-shows-promise-against-eating-disorders-682053.html

About the Author:

Kim Dennis ImageDrKim Dennis is a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorder treatment, addiction recovery, trauma / PTSD and co-occurring disorders. As CEO/Medical Director Emeritus, she provides consultation to the clinical director and participates in the Timberline Knolls Clinical Development Institute and other outreach initiatives. Dr. Dennis maintains a holistic perspective in the practice of psychiatry.  She incorporates biological, psycho-social and spiritual approaches into individually-tailored treatment plans. Dr. Dennis is published in the areas of gender differences in the development of psychopathology, co-occurring eating disorders and self-injury, and the use of medication with family-based therapy for adolescents with anorexia nervosa. Dr. Dennis received her undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago. She obtained her medical degree from the University Of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and completed her psychiatry residency training at the University Of Chicago Hospitals, where she served as chief resident. During her training, she was part of the multi-disciplinary eating disorders team specializing in treating adolescents with anorexia and bulimia and their families. She is a member of the American Medical Association, Academy for Eating Disorders, the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry and the American Society for Addiction Medicine.  She is on the medical advisory board for the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.


Page Last Updated and Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on
July 25, 2016
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Resources for Eating Disorders and Treatments