Context: January, 2004, marked the publication of NICE guidelines for the treatment of eating disorders, a series of recommendations from a multidisciplinary, comprehensive, and rigorous process. The recommendations are assigned a grade from A (strong empirical support from well-conducted randomised trials) to C (expert opinion without strong empirical data). Over 100 recommendations were made, most of which were given a C grade. No specific recommendations were made for anorexia nervosa. Cognitive behavioural therapy for bulimia nervosa was assigned grade A because of the evidence showing that it is superior to other psychological and drug treatments. Antidepressants for bulimia nervosa were given grade B. No specific recommendations were made for atypical eating disorders except for binge-eating disorder (cognitive behavioural therapy was recommended [A]).
Starting point: The methodological rigour of the NICE guidelines is in contrast with the current Practice Guideline for Eating Disorders (PGED) of the American Psychiatric Association. PGED does not detail criteria for evaluating supporting research. Instead of making clear recommendations, PGED is uncritically inclusive and emphasises subjective judgment of individual clinicians. The NICE guidelines balance recommending specific treatments against the importance of clinical judgment when guideline recommendations are not readily applicable.
Where next: Evidence-based guidelines are limited by the quality of the available research and its clinical relevance. The NICE guidelines underscore the absence of sufficient evidence for guidance in several important areas, such as atypical eating disorders (eating disorders not otherwise specified) which are the most common. Research on the treatment of these atypical eating disorders is needed. Evidence-based psychological treatments are not routinely implemented in general practice. Dissemination of these demonstrably effective treatments poses a challenge, and learning how to implement evidence-based psychological treatments and monitor their use is a research priority.