ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) techniques involve altering the antecedents and consequences that are associated with the particular behavior of socially significant, in this case, those associated with eating disorders.

These approaches have proven extremely successful for many different types of behavior problems, though they have generally been used to target specific phenomena (e.g. Ahearn, Clark, MacDonald, & Chung, 2007; Baker, Hanley, & Matthews, 2006; Derby et al., 1992).

Eating disorders are of course socially significant, but they’re also very serious when it comes to a child’s health. In some severe cases, there have actually been people who have faced serious consequences as a result of these conditions when they went untreated. An intervention is required to ensure that children get the help that they need to safely reach an age-appropriate eating level.

Science-based ABA programs are used in the treatment of Selective Eating Disorders, Paediatric Feeding Disorders, and other Eating problems by the following effective treatment procedures:

  • Understanding behavior problems and the function of the behavior
  • Analyzing that behavior
  • Choosing the correctly applied behavior treatment and implementing the treatment program
  • Training patients that the behavior does not occur again
  • Providing after-care and/or support programs for life-long maintenance of healthy eating

The treatment program helps individuals look at the underlying causes of their behaviors in order to come to terms with their illness and start to create healthy strategies for coping once they leave.

The behavior analyst directs behavior observation and frequently listens to reports of the behaving person or from close persons. Listening and observing are not sufficient; some rules have to govern the selection. One could select the most aversive problem for the client who seeks services or for his/her parents or caretakers.

In some cases, like anorexia, the target behavior should be the one that presents a physical danger to the client or to others. The targeted behavior could be the one that would lead, without treatment, to a poor prognostic. On the other hand, one could select a behavior that is easy to change in order to obtain the client or caretaker’s cooperation.

Another important strategy is to select a key response, one that produces the greatest change among several problem behaviors. A good strategy is to teach functionally equivalent incompatible behaviors that enhance adaptation to the environment or that are important to the development of other behaviors, or that are relevant for a well-succeeded performance, or that are socially valued.

Another selection criterion would be a behavior whose change is likely to maintain over time. Alternatively, the selected behavior can be one that is consistent with local or developmental norms, and lastly, one that enhances discrimination between good and bad succeeded performances.  Ref: Meyer, S. B. (2008).  Functional analysis of eating disorders, Journal Of Behavior Analysis In Health, Sports, Fitness And Medicine, 1, 1. p.26.


Ahearn, W.H., Clark, K.M., MacDonald, R.P.F., & Chung, B. (2007). Assessing and treating vocal stereotypy in children with autism. Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, 40, 263-275.

Baker, J.C., Hanley, G.P., & Mathews, R.M. (2006). Staff-administered functional analysis and treatment of aggression by an elder with dementia. Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, 39, 469-474.

Bosch, A., Miltenberger, R.G., Gross, A., Knudson, P., & Brower-Breitwieser, C. (2008). Evaluation of extinction as a functional treatment for binge eating. Behaviour Modification,32, 556-576 .

Derby, K.M., Wacker, D.P., Sasso, G., Steege, M., Northup, J., Cigrand, K., & Asmus, J. (1992). Brief functional assessment techniques to evaluate aberrant behaviour in an outpatient setting: a summary of 79 cases. Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis, 25, 713-721.

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