Reading self-help books is commonly reported by women with eating disorders. Rorty, Yager, and Rossotto (1993) found that almost half (43%) of women with eating disorders reported reading self-help books. The majority reported high levels of satisfaction with this approach. Although a number of studies examined self-help workbooks with modest therapist contact, to our knowledge there have been no studies that examine the efficacy of self-help books without additional intervention.
In 1993, Schmidt, Tiller, and Treasure evaluated a CBT-based self-help handbook with women with BN. Participants were assessed 4-6 weeks after the onset of treatment. The intervention was found to be effective in reducing bulimic symptoms and increasing nutritional knowledge. Participants significantly reduced binge eating and purging behavior but their weight and shape attitudes did not change significantly during treatment.
Carter and colleagues (2003) extended the findings of previous studies by comparing the self-help treatment condition to two control conditions, an attention-placebo control and a standard wait-list control (WL). Women who met criteria for BN were randomly assigned to one of three conditions for 8 weeks: (a) unguided CBT self-help; (b) attention-placebo control; or (c) wait-list control. The duration of the self-help treatment was 2 months. Women in the CBT self-help condition received Overcoming Binge Eating (Fairburn, 1995). The attention-placebo group was designed to provide nonspecific self-help and control for nonspecific treatment factors. Women in the attention-placebo condition received the self-help manual Self-Assertion for Women (Butler, 1992). Women in both self-help conditions were instructed to read the manuals and follow the advice to the best of their ability. Although no significant treatment by time effects were found, significant decreases in binge eating and purge frequency were observed in both self-help conditions but not in the WL group. Approximately 54% in the CBT self-help group and 50% in the attention-placebo control group reported at least a 50% reduction in binge eating or purging, compared to 31% for the WL group.
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