A novel approach for treating anorexia is successful in reducing certain aspects of the eating disorder, a recent study has found.

Anorexia is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder where patients face an intense fear of gaining weight and have a false perception of their body image. To prevent weight gain, the patients develop behaviors such as vomiting after eating, use of laxatives and exercising excessively.

The condition requires immediate attention when the patient suffers from dehydration, malnutrition and kidney failure. Anorexia is usually treated using a combination of psychotherapy, medication and counseling.

In the latest study, researchers from the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma, tested a new technique called floatation therapy on a small group of anorexia patients. The patients are suspended in a pool of warm, saline water inside a soundproof room.

Researchers evaluated 68 women and girls. Of them, 45 patients took a one-hour floatation therapy two times a week for four weeks. The rest of the participants did not attend the therapy but received normal care.

The team measured the reductions in body dissatisfaction of all participants using a figure rating scale.

"We showed them a series, a validated scale that is composed of 10 different pictures of actual female bodies varying from an underweight to an overweight body mass index. And they pick the body silhouette that most correspond to how they see their current body, and then they make another choice related to how they want their body to appear, sort of which silhouette they would prefer to have," senior study author Dr. Sahib Khalsa explained.

"So in our study, pretty reliably after each float session... instead of seeing their current body as more overweight, they actually picked a body that was more closely related to their actual BMI," Khalsa said.

Their anxiety levels also significantly reduced soon after the therapy. However, the participants did not show any significant changes in anxiety when followed up after six months.

The findings were published in the journal eClinicalMedicine.

"The idea is that women with anorexia have dysfunctional interoceptive abilities [sensing internal signals from your body], so they're not able to attend to and perceive their bodily experiences in the same way that healthy individuals can. And one unique thing about floating is that it helps people become more in tune with those body signals," said Emily Choquette, a study co-author.