Health Team

Anorexia patient study includes spousal involvement

Posted February 4, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— UNC researchers are developing a program for anorexic patients that incorporates their spouses to aid recovery.

With anorexia nervosa, people lose extreme amounts of weight by virtually starving themselves. They never see themselves as thin enough. The illness has the highest rate of death of any psychiatric disorder.

Anorexia patient study involves spousal involvement New anorexic therapy involves spouse

Adult women suffering from the illness typically go through therapy alone.

“Partners of patients with anorexia nervosa really want to help and don't know what to do,” said Cynthia Bulik, director of the UNC Eating Disorders Center.

Bulik, along with UNC psychologists, is seeking adults with anorexia for UCAN, a 20-week continuing study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health to help couples like Margie and Tommy Hodgin.

Margie Hodgin developed anorexia after undergoing surgery that led to unexpected weight loss.

“When you start losing weight and people start commenting on it and complimenting you, I just sort of ran with it from there,” Margie Hodgin said.

She began skipping meals, cutting calories and purging after eating. Friends at work contacted her husband.

“She'd had episodes at work ... where she had passed out a couple of times,” Tommy Hodgin said.

When diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, Margie Hodgin said she decided to get professional help because of her family.

“I decided to do it for them, but I’m glad I did it,” she said.

Margie Hodgin joined a residential program out of state. She later moved her treatment to UNC, where her husband got involved in her therapy as part of the UNC study.

“Before the study, I was out of the loop,” Hodgin said.

Bulik said the program aims to “help work with these couples to give them a strategy to work together in recovering from the eating disorder.”

Margie Hodgin said the program helped improve her marriage and save her life.

“This study was able to gives us an opportunity for both of us to get each other's side of the story and just cut through a lot of resentment,” Margie Hodgin said.


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  • paramedic434 Feb 6, 2009

    Margie is not anorexic now, however she still has the disease. Margie was Dx with the disease in August of 2005 and has been in treatment both in-patient and out patient. In 2005 her weight was dangerously low, however with treatment and therapy, she has done remarkably well, and I am very proud of her. Remember that just because a patient does look well and is at a healthy weight does not mean that they are cured. Margie struggles everyday with her feelings regarding her body immage, and seeks treatment at UNC from the staff at the eating disorders center. Normal body weight and body immage will fool you into thinking that a person does not have a problem.

  • work4rmhomemom Feb 6, 2009

    Is that them in the picture? She doesn't look anorexic to me!

  • Whatthehey Feb 5, 2009

    It's very good that UNC is involving the spouse in the treatment of a person with an eating disorder. It is unfortunate that they are only now discovering the imporantance and power of doing so. That eating disorders - and most psychiatric disorders - are systemic and interpersonal in nature, that that their treatment should be as well, has been long known and practiced elsewhere. UNC is well known for its "traditional" approaches (circa early 1900's). A reader interested in more "recent" approaches could start by reading "Self Starvation" by Selvini-Palazzoli (1974) or "Psychosomatic Families: Anorexia Nervosa in Context" by Sal Minuchin et al (1978) or "Weight, Sex & Marriage" by Richard Stuart (1987), or go all the way back to Nat Ackerman's "The Psychodynamics of Family Life (1958).