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Using Virtual Reality to Treat Eating Disorder

Using Virtual Reality to Treat Eating Disorder

Recovery from ED in terms of weight and eating pathology does not guarantee that the individual gets along with her/his physical appearance (Perpiñá et al., 2003). Hence, it seems sensible to specifically tackle BI disturbances in the general treatment of ED. However, there is scarce number of studies dealing with the utilization of a specific component for the treatment of BI, within the scope of the general treatment of eating disorders.


Body Dysphoria

is used to describe general feelings of sadness or an uncomfortable mood. It can include feeling great anxiety, irritability or restlessness.

Body Image Distortion

refers to a distorted view of the body. Those suffering tend to view themselves as being larger than they really are.

Body Image Disturbances

is a more general concept that includes dysphoria, distortions and behaviour rituals related.

Cognitive behavioural treatment

therapy that focuses on problematic behaviours and thoughts of the patient. The therapist will try to understand the relationships among a host of different variables including thoughts, behaviours, sensations and emotions.

Exposure Treatment

patients are asked to deliberately confront anxiety-provoking thoughts, situations and circumstances until their arousal levels are reduced by at least half.

Behavioural Intervention

interventions that may include assertiveness training, behavioural activation, communication and social skills training, distraction, modeling, problem solving, thought stopping, visualization, exposure, relaxation and breathing.

Cognitive Restructuring

therapy that helps patients to recognize and turn irrational thoughts into rational and more adaptive responses.

VR allows the person to model and "embody" their body image

In a previous work (Perpiñá et al., 1999), the differential effectiveness of a specific VR component for the treatment of BI in ED was tested. To do so, two treatment conditions were compared: the VR condition (cognitive-behavioural treatment plus VR) and the standard BI treatment condition (cognitive-behavioural treatment plus relaxation). Therefore, this was a controlled study conducted in a clinical population, and consisted of a comparison of the efficacy of the VR component versus the "traditional" BI techniques.

The cognitive-behavioural BI treatment was based on Cash (1996) and Rosen (1997) programmes and consisted of psychoeducation, exposure, a safety behaviours intervention, cognitive restructuring, and a body self-esteem component. The VR application was developed using a PC Pentium with a medium quality Head Mounted Display (V6 from Virtual Research) and a 2D mouse. The VR component was developed through several virtual environments.

Participant's real weight vs subjective weight

Before and after the treatment, the patients were assessed through several questionnaires regarding their eating and weight symptoms and BI disturbances. Results showed that after treatment, all patients had improved significantly. However, those patients treated with the VR component showed a significantly higher improvement.


Cash, T.F. (1996). The treatment of body Image disturbances. In J.K.Thompson (Ed.), Body Image, eating disorders and obesity. Washington: American Psychological Association.

Perpiñá, C., Botella, C., Baños, R., Marco, J.H; Alcañiz, M. y Quero, S. (1999). Body Image and virtual reality in eating disorders: Exposure by virtual reality is more effective than the classical body image treatment? Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 2 (2), 149-159.

Perpiñá, C., Botella, C. y Baños, R M. (2003). Virtual Reality in Eating Disorders. European Eating Disorders Review, 11, 261-278

Perpiñá, C., Marco, J.H., Botella, C., y Baños, R. (2004). Tratamiento de la imagen corporal en los trastornos alimentarios mediante tratamiento cognitivo-comportamental apoyado con realidad virtual: resultados al año de seguimiento. Psicología Conductual, 12 (3), 519-538

Rosen, J.C. (1997). Cognitive-behavioral body image therapy. En D.M. Garner y P.E. Garfinkel (Eds.), Handbook of treatment for eating disorders (2ª Ed.). New York: Guilford Press.


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