Do people with anorexia nervosa use sauna baths? A reconsideration of heat-treatment in anorexia nervosa

Eat Behav. Summer 2002;3(2):133-42. doi: 10.1016/s1471-0153(01)00051-4.


The paper addresses the absence of reports about the sauna use among the weight loss strategies of patients with anorexia nervosa (AN). Because AN entails a relentless pursuit of thinness, it might be expected that these patients would frequently resort to saunas. The paper sustains that the absence of reports should not be taken to mean that sauna use is irrelevant to AN. Support for this possibility is founded in the apparent progress shown by AN patients whose treatment consisted of different strategies of heat supply, which included a protocol of sauna sessions. First recommended by W. Gull, heat-treatment may be relevant to hyperactivity, a significant clinical characteristic in AN. This treatment was developed as an extrapolation from animal research model, where a simple manipulation of ambient temperature (AT) was found to impede and reverse excessive running in food-restricted rats. Sauna use may have been unreported either because it impedes the development of the syndrome, or its benefits have been attributed to conventional treatments. The elucidation of sauna experience among AN patients may have potential implications for the role of heat in the treatment of AN.