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Evidence-based practice in eating disorders incorporates three essential components: research evidence, clinical expertise, and patient values, preferences, and characteristics. Conceptualized as a ‘three-legged stool’ by Sackett et al. in 1996 (BMJ), all of these components of evidence-based practice are considered essential for providing optimal care in the treatment of eating disorders. However, the extent to which these individual aspects of evidence-based practice are valued among clinicians and researchers is variable, with each of these stool ‘legs’ being neglected at times. As a result, empirical support and patient preferences for treatment are not consistently considered in the selection and implementation of eating disorder treatment. In addition, clinicians may not have access to training to provide treatments supported by research and preferred by patients. Despite these challenges, integrating these three components of evidence-based practice is critical for the effective treatment of eating disorders.


Current research supports the use of several types of psychotherapies, including cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal, and family-based therapies, as well as certain types of medications for the treatment of eating disorders. However, limitations in current research, including sample heterogeneity, inconsistent efficacy, a paucity of data, the need for tailored approaches, and the use of staging models highlight the need for clinical expertise. Although preliminary data also support the importance of patient preferences, values, and perspectives for optimizing treatment, enhancing treatment outcome, and minimizing attrition among patients with eating disorders, the extent to which patient preference is consistently predictive of outcome is less clear and requires further investigation.


All three components of evidence-based practice are integral for the optimal treatment of eating disorders. Integrating clinical expertise and patient perspective may also facilitate the dissemination of empirically-supported and emerging treatments as well as prevention programs. Further research is imperative to identify ways in which this three-legged approach to eating disorder treatment could be most effectively implemented.




BioMed Central Ltd.

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BMC Medicine

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