Eating Disorders and Virtual Reality: What You Need to Know

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can have life-threatening consequences. According to the American Psychiatric Association, eating disorders are behavioral conditions characterized by severe & persistent disturbance in eating behaviors & associated distressing thoughts and emotions. They can be very serious conditions affecting physical, psychological & social function.

This blog post will discuss the criteria for being diagnosed with an eating disorder, the most severe type of eating disorder, and how virtual reality can be used to work on this condition.

What are the criteria to be diagnosed with an eating disorder?

There are a few different types of eating disorders, but the most common ones are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. To be diagnosed with anorexia, a person must meet certain criteria, such as having a fear of gaining weight, weighing less than 85% of what is considered healthy for their height, and having a distorted body image. Bulimia is similar, but people with bulimia are usually normal weight or even overweight instead of being underweight. People with bulimia also engage in binge eating followed by purging, which can be done through vomiting, excessive exercise, or taking laxatives.

Common thought patterns of people with eating disorders

Eating disorders are not just about food. They’re also about feelings, behaviors, and thoughts. People with eating disorders often have a distorted view of themselves and their bodies. They may see themselves as overweight, even when they’re not. Or they may think that they’re fat no matter how much weight they lose.

People with eating disorders often have a hard time dealing with emotions. They may use food to comfort themselves when they feel sad, angry, or anxious. Or they may punish themselves by not eating when they’re upset.

Eating disorders can also be about control. People with eating disorders may feel like they’re not in control of their lives, so they use food to feel more in control.

Which eating disorder is the most severe?

There are serious health consequences associated with any type of eating disorder, but anorexia nervosa is often considered the most severe eating disorder. Anorexia is characterized by extremely low body weight and a fear of gaining weight. People with anorexia may starve themselves or exercise excessively to lose weight, and in the most severe cases, it can lead to death. People with anorexia have an intense fear of gaining weight and will often starve themselves or exercise excessively to lose weight. Anorexia can cause serious health problems, including heart problems, bone loss, and organ damage.

Virtual reality for Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are complex, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. Along with traditional therapy, virtual reality (VR) has shown to be a promising tool for reducing symptoms and alleviating many of the fears that go along with having an eating disorder. 

VR has been used to treat various mental health conditions, including eating disorders. A study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry explains that VR may be an effective treatment for anorexia nervosa. The study found that VR can help people with anorexia increase their body satisfaction and reduce their fear of gaining weight.

Virtual Reality is an immersive, three-dimensional world that allows the individual to be placed in different scenarios. The sense of presence offered by this technology can trigger emotional reactions and foster self-reflectiveness within patients while also providing greater control over experiences than what’s possible with memory or imagination alone!

With VR protocols for eating disorders, the experience of one’s body (embodiment) can be altered in real-time and as a cue exposure tool to reduce food cravings.

Amelia’s VR environments focus on anxiety related to eating disorders by gradual exposure to restaurants and other situations that would require the patient to face challenges around eating, such as dining with other people and eating more than they are used to. Each session incorporates new challenges and analyzes the previous advances with the patient.

If you want to learn more about Amelia and how you can use virtual reality as a tool in your therapy with your patients who live with eating disorders, contact us for a free demo. 



Vilalta, F., Pla, J., Ferrer, M., & Gutiérrez, (2015). Terapia de exposición mediante Realidad Virtual en los  trastornos alimentarios: presente y futuro. Revista Tesis Psicológica, 10 (2), 12-37

(Gutiérrez-Maldonado et al., 2016; Lafond, Riva, Gutierrez-Maldonado, & Wiederhold, 2016; Lozano et al, 2002; Marco, Perpiñá & Botella, 2013; Manzoni et al, 2013; Manzoni et al, 2016; Perpiñá, Botella & Baños, 2003; Perpiñá et al., 2013; Pla-Sanjuanelo et al., 2015; Riva, 2011: Riva et al, 1999; Wiederhold, Riva, & Gutiérrez-Maldonado, 2016).