Health Team

Anorexia patient study includes spousal involvement

Posted February 4, 2009 5:40 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— 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.

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.