UNITE- UNiting couples In the Treatment of Eating disorders

      UNiting couples In the Treatment of Eating disorders (UNITE) Part 1:

An in depth exploration of couples’ experiences with bulimia nervosa or binge-eating disorder

 UNITE is a collaborative research project between the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders and the UNC Department of Psychology and is funded by the Global Foundation for Eating Disorders. It consists of gathering data to inform the development of a suite of couple-based interventions spanning all eating disorders. A couple-based intervention—UCAN—already exists for anorexia nervosa but not bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.

Bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder are serious mental and physical conditions that can significantly impair one’s quality of life. Individuals with these disorders typically feel out of control while eating or become distressed after eating larger quantities of food than planned. There is often marked guilt and shame surrounding eating, and people with these disorders may feel uncomfortable in their body and distressed about their weight or shape. In addition to binge eating, individuals who have bulimia nervosa feel the need to go to extreme measures to control how their body looks. For example, they may exercise excessively, vomit, take steroids, or fast for long periods of time.

Bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder affect both women and men.

UNITE: What To Expect

This initial study examines the challenges couples face when one partner has bulimia nervosa or binge-eating disorder. We are conducting individual interviews with each partner to explore in depth the thoughts and feelings couples have about the eating disorder, including the affect it has had on their relationship and their lives. In addition, we will gather some background information from each partner in the form of an online survey. 

Our goal is to use this information to develop couple-based interventions for both eating disorders to enhance the recovery process. Your participation in UNITE can help us understand how best to involve partners in the treatment of these eating disorders.

Is UNITE for You?

You will undergo a short assessment to determine if our study is right for you.  If the study is a good fit, you will complete a 45-minute interview (alone) and a short online survey. All interviews are conducted by a licensed clinical psychologist. You have the option of completing the interview by phone if unable to travel to UNC.

You might be able to contribute to the study if:

  • You or your partner has bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder
  • You and your partner have been together for at least 6 months
  • You are both at least 18 years old
  • You are both interested in participating in the study

If the above sounds like you or your partner, you may wish to participate in UNITE.


To “thank you” for your time, you will receive $25 dollars in the form of an Amazon gift card at study completion.

For more information, please call our study investigator at (919) 966-2920 or email us at UNITE@unc.edu. You can also check out our study Facebook page.

DirectionsAll assessments will be conducted at the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders (first floor of the UNC Neurosciences Hospital) or via phone (if unable to travel to UNC).

 The UNITE Team

Cristin RunfolaDr. Cristin D. Runfola

Cristin Runfola, PhD is Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Global Foundation for Eating Disorders (GFED) Scholar. She received her BA from San Diego State University, MS and PhD in Clinical Psychology from Palo Alto University, and completed her Predoctoral Clinical Internship and T32 Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at UNC-CH. She also received training in eating disorders research and treatment at Stanford University and the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). She co-developed and oversees Embody Carolina, an organization dedicated to preparing college students to serve as compassionate and effective allies to those struggling with eating disorders. Her research focuses on the epidemiology of dysregulated eating and weight concerns in underserved populations and her primary interest is in developing and testing the efficacy of clinical interventions designed to improve outcome for eating disorders. She also holds an active clinical load and serves as a study therapist for clinical trials including Uniting Couples (in the treatment of) Anorexia Nervosa (UCAN). Dr. Runfola is a recipient of the APA Superior Research Award, the NIMH/AED Early Career Investigator Travel Fellowship Award, and UNC Martin S. Wallach Award for Outstanding Clinical Psychology Intern of the Year. She is also engaged in advocacy and holds leadership positions within the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED).

BulikDr. Cynthia M. Bulik

Cynthia M. Bulik, PhD, FAED is Distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders, Department of Psychiatry University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Professor of Nutrition in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, Director of the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, and Co-Director of the UNC Center for Psychiatric Genomics. She received her BA from the University of Notre Dame and her MA and PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. She completed internships and post-doctoral fellowships at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh, PA. She developed outpatient, partial hospitalization, and inpatient services for eating disorders both in New Zealand and in the United States. Her research includes treatment, laboratory, animal, epidemiological, twin and molecular genetic studies of eating disorders and body weight regulation. She is a past president of the Academy for Eating Disorders, past Vice-President of the Eating Disorders Coalition, and past Associate Editor of the International Journal of Eating Disorders. Dr. Bulik has written over 450 scientific papers and chapters on eating disorders, and is author of the books Eating Disorders: Detection and Treatment, Runaway Eating, Crave: Why You Binge Eat and How To Stop, Abnormal Psychology (Beidel, Bulik, Stanley), The Woman in the Mirror (2011), and Midlife Eating Disorders (2013, Walker).

Don BaucomDr. Donald H. Baucom

Dr. Donald Baucom, PhD is the Richard Simpson Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he is also Research Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the Director of the UNC Couple Therapy Clinic. Dr. Baucom is a clinical psychologist and has been conducting research and treating couples with a variety of problems since 1974. He received his BA and PhD from the University of North Carolina. He has conducted more treatment research on couples than any other investigator in the field and has been funded for his treatment research by a number of federal and international agencies for decades. Along with his numerous research publications, he has written and edited seven books about couples and intervening with them in a variety of contexts, including the major texts on cognitive-behavioral couple therapy. Over the past two decades, he has focused his treatment research on developing couple-based interventions for couples in which one partner has psychopathology or health concerns. Along with Dr. Bulik, this includes their treatment research on couples and anorexia nervosa, as well as his treatment research on couples and other disorders, including anxiety disorders, depression, cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, osteoarthritis, smoking cessation during pregnancy, and end of life. He conducts workshops throughout the world, training other therapists in how to conduct these interventions, which he has developed and validated. He has won numerous awards for his research contributions, mentoring other professionals, undergraduate teaching, and clinical training and supervision.

Jennifer Kirby (updated)Dr. Jennifer S. Kirby

Jennifer S. Kirby, PhD is a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received her MA and PhD in Clinical Psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill, and completed her Predoctoral Clinical Internship at Duke University Medical Center. Drs. Kirby and Baucom have collaborated in the development and evaluation of a number of relationship intervention programs from a cognitive-behavioral perspective. These have included working with couples who are experiencing emotion dysregulation, health concerns such as breast cancer, extramarital affairs, anorexia nervosa, and couples who are preparing for marriage. Dr. Kirby’s  interest and expertise in training others in couple therapy is enriched by her teaching of doctoral courses in empirically supported treatments for adults, dialectical behavior therapy, and clinical supervision. In addition, she has won awards for outstanding teaching and clinical supervision, and maintains an active private practice with couples and individuals.