The British Journal of Psychiatry
Operant Conditioning in the Treatment of Anorexia Nervosa: A Review and Retrospective Study of 11 Cases


An operant conditioning technique designed to restore a normal eating routine, and hence weight, in cases of anorexia nervosa is described. Satisfactory weight gains resulted on all but two of the sixteen occasions the regime was employed. Where weight was fully restored, the mean weekly weight gain ranged from 0.9 to 3.3 kg., which compares favourably with or exceeds that achieved using other methods. A limited follow-up study suggests, however, that operant conditioning techniques are often inadequate for long-term maintenance of normal eating habits and weight, and they are probably best used simply as a means of rapid weight restoration at times of nutritional crisis.

An attempt to isolate patient and treatment variables affecting both immediate and long-term outcome failed to reveal any significant meaningful correlations.