VR Biofeedback for Eating Disorders – Training gastric interoception

Eating disorders come with major health burdens and around one half of patients do not make a full or lasting recovery after receiving treatment (Herpertz-Dahlmann, 2015; Linardon et al., 2016, 2017). Thus, developing new therapies, which focus on the underlying mechanisms of eating disorders, is crucial. For eating disorders, the perception of one’s bodily signals (such as heartbeat, stomach activity or breathing) seems to be altered. The perception of stomach signals appears to play an especially important role in perceiving and regulating eating-specific signals, like hunger, satiety, and fullness. A person’s ability to perceptive their bodily signals is called interoception. Interoceptive alterations also play a role in issues that frequently co-occur with eating disorders, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and emotion regulation difficulties.

Training the perception and regulation of stomach signals is therefore a promising new approach. To do so, we will visualise stomach activity in virtual reality (VR) and use a biofeedback paradigm. The participant will be able to see and experience their stomach activity realistically, making the invisible visible. In a second step, participants will be taught to modulate their stomach activity. In the current project, we will develop this new method and evaluate whether it helps to reduce symptoms of eating disorder and associated issues. Therefore, a potentially valuable new tool to improve the lives of those suffering from eating disorders may result from our work.

Team members:

  • Aline Tiemann
  • Marius Rubo
  • Simone Munsch
  • Elena Mugellini

This project is funded by the Swiss Anorexia Nervosa Foundation, http://www.anorexia-nervosa.ch/home.html