The present study examined whether or not the temporal pattern of symptom change defined as sudden gains is applicable to and has significant ramifications for understanding recovery from eating disorders. Sudden gains were defined as stable and clinically significant changes that take place between two sessions of treatment. Data for the current study were drawn from an efficacy study of CBT for eating disorders which included session-by-session measures of eating disorder symptomatology. Predictors of sudden gains were measured by an observer coded scale that included ratings of therapist use interventions, client change in behaviors and beliefs, client engagement, and homework completion. Three research questions were addressed: First, is the phenomenon of sudden gains present in CBT for eating disorders? Second, do sudden gains in CBT for eating disorders follow the three-stage model proposed for sudden gain recovery in other disorders (i.e., cognitive changes during critical sessions => sudden gains => upward spiral that includes further cognitive changes and greater long-term symptom improvement (Tang & DeRubeis, 1999b)? Third, what are the predictors of sudden gains in CBT for eating disorders that distinguish the critical session that takes place right before the sudden gain? Findings suggest that many eating disordered clients (62%) experienced at least one sudden gain during the course of CBT treatment. Three distinct types of sudden gains were identified: total symptom sudden gains, eating-related sudden gains, and body-related sudden gains. The average magnitude of these sudden gains was large representing on average 35% of total symptom improvement. Clients who experienced total symptom and body-related sudden gains demonstrated fewer eating disordered symptoms than the other clients at posttreatment. During the session preceding the sudden gain, therapists had increased levels of cognitive interventions and empathy, and clients experienced more cognitive changes and increased motivation.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Psychology



Date Submitted


Document Type





sudden gains, eating disorders, cognitive-behavioral therapy

Included in

Psychology Commons