*Content Warning: This blog contains information related to eating disorder behaviors. Please take care of yourself when reading.*
“I can skip lunch again.”
“If I eat this meal, I’ll go run 5 miles.”
“Let me weigh myself one more time.”
“Just one more bag of chips and then I’ll stop.”
At different times and at differing amounts, we all have negative thoughts about our bodies, our weight, and what we eat. We live in a society where expectations of beauty and what we “should” look like are ingrained in our brains. Some days, a pair of pants we once loved may make us feel completely unflattering and we feel upset. Other days, you may have the urge to skip breakfast in lieu of coffee. Maybe you regret eating that cheeseburger instead of the salad. Those are normative experiences we’ll all have. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
What I’m talking about is when food and weight consumes your every waking moment. When life feels like it revolves around the next meal, how many calories it is, and what you can do to counteract those calories. I’m talking about feeling like you have to throw up, use laxatives, or intensely exercise after meals. Or just skip meals altogether. Maybe for you, it’s the fear of gaining weight that gets in your way of eating. There’s so much anxiety and worry about what will happen that it just feels easier and safer to skip the meal altogether. For you, maybe it’s feeling out-of-control when eating; like something other than yourself takes over. There’s the shame and guilt that come, but it still doesn’t feel like you can stop.
I want you to know that help is out there.
Seeking help for an eating disorder (or disordered eating behaviors) can be the scariest and bravest thing a person could do. It’s taking the first step in admitting that food has a control over your life. People often shy away from treatment because it involves taking away a really prominent coping skill in your life- those eating disorder behaviors. However, that road to learning healthier, safer, more effective behaviors is a long and worthwhile one.
I think I need treatment- What should I do?
First, I want you to give yourself a high-five, a hug, or say “You rock, dude!” because thinking that thought is such a big step!
There isn’t just one way to seek treatment correctly; however, here are my recommendations on some people to reach out to:
Your own support system
Identify someone in your life who you can share this information with. Maybe it’s a parent, a partner, a friend. This journey isn’t meant to be taken alone. It may even be helpful to have someone with you as you reach out to others on this list.
If you already have a therapist, I really encourage you to share this information with them at your next session. If you need help finding one, check out the resources at the end of this blog. Recovery from an eating disorder is not just about the medical/nutritional side- you’re also going to want emotional and mental support. From my experience, therapists who specialize in eating disorders will also help connect you with a dietician– someone who is trained to help collaborate with you on goals, meal plans, and eating patterns in a safe and healthy manner.
A medical doctor
It’s going to be important that you schedule a doctor’s appointment to have them check out your vitals. Those struggling with eating disorders may also be struggling with other physical problems that may contribute to your suffering.
Like I mentioned above, a dietician will be a crucial part in your treatment to help you relearn safe and healthy habits with food. Therapists and doctors can help connect you with dieticians in your area if you have never worked with one before.
Together with these providers, you’ll develop a treatment plan to help you redevelop a healthier and safer relationship with food and your body. What that may look like will depend on a variety of factors; here at the Cincinnati Center for DBT, working with myself or another clinician to target your eating disorder behaviors would involve weekly individual therapy and for some, other components of our comprehensive DBT program. For others, you may need to start at a more acute level of treatment such as an intensive-outpatient or partial-hospitalization program. The providers on your treatment team will help recommend the best course of action to reach your goals.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy & Eating Disorders
Growing research is showing the effectiveness of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in treating eating disorders. The most prominent research shows that those struggling with Bulimia Nervosa, Binge-Eating Disorder, or binge-eating habits, DBT can be effective in helping teach emotion regulation and replacing behaviors to help regulate instead of eating or compensatory behaviors (throwing up, laxatives, intense exercise after eating, etc.) Some research has been conducted at the writing of this on the treatment of Anorexia Nervosa with DBT; however, the consensus remains that Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is the gold-standard for Anorexia; focusing on cognitions (thinking patterns) and maladaptive ways of coping with that. From my understanding, this isn’t a clear-cut rule, meaning that what a person may also be struggling with can play a role in the type of treatment best suited for them (such as other mental health disorders). My advice: do your own research and talk to your personal therapist about what’s best for you. If you’re needing a therapist, you can contact our office here to schedule an assessment. This work can and will be scary and difficult. You deserve to live a life not ruled by food and fear. Please reach out!
The National Eating Disorders Association website has a lot of helpful tools on there; some highlights:
- Screening Tool– a short questionnaire you can fill out to guide your decision on whether or not to seek professional help
- Treatment Provider Database– ways to find providers around the country
- Warning Signs and Symptoms– a list of common signs and symptoms you or a loved one may be experiencing
“To stay in recovery, you must be responsible for finding your own motivation. Remember, motivation may not be easy to come by at first. It will probably be a very small, timid part inside of you. When you find it, let that part be in charge. Let the minority rule and lead you to a life you never dreamed was possible”
-Jenni Schaefer, Author of Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too