Remote cognitive behavioural therapy could be an effective intervention for comfort eating in people with a learning disability, according to new research.

The case study published in Journal of Eating Disorders found that despite evidence of people with a learning disability using comfort-eating as a way to destress, they are an overlooked group due to diagnostic overshadowing.

Little further information exists even though understanding of this as a psychiatric difficulty is within the ‘Diagnostic Criteria for Psychiatric Disorders for Use with Adults with Learning Disabilities (DC-LD)’. Moreover, there are no known psychotherapeutic resources, manuals, guides, or case studies.

The case presentation documented a white, British woman in her late thirties called Sarah who has a diagnosis of Down's syndrome. She experienced significant problems with comfort eating and subsequent weight management. Despite dieting and exercising, Sarah was clinically obese and experienced weight related pain and psychological distress.

Systemic intervention between Sarah, her mother, and the therapist formulated Sarah’s eating difficulties using a cognitive behavioural framework. This hypothesised how comfort-eating met her emotional needs and maintained her health difficulties. Remote cognitive behavioural therapy interventions included collaborative behavioural experiments, coping strategies, and homework tasks.

The Maslow Assessment of Needs Scale-Learning Disabilities, Glasgow Depression Scale for people with a Learning Disability, Glasgow Anxiety Scale for people with an Intellectual Disability, qualitative feedback from family, as well as frequency data showed significant improvement.

The study authors said: "Remote working meant adapting the intervention and giving additional consideration to the therapeutic collaboration, therapeutic processes, systemic working, limitations, identifying and formulating the problem, applying change methods, and monitoring efficacy."