Eating Disorders & How To Find Help
Eating disorders are the result of a complex interaction between psychological, biological and cultural aspects. An individual’s genetics, cultural pressures that place great importance on a perfect appearance and thinness, as well as low self-esteem and life stressors may all be a factor in the development of an eating disorder. For many, extreme dieting related to eating disorders begins as a way to improve self-esteem and gain control, but instead results in adhering to rigid rules and obsessive thoughts about food, weight and shape.
Although women make up the majority of individuals struggling with eating disorders, males are also susceptible to unhealthy restricting habits. The two of the most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa.
Anorexia nervosa refers to people who severely restrict their food intake; although people with anorexia nervosa may become dangerously underweight, often they still view themselves as fat, which generates extreme distress, and further food restriction. This revelation of their bodies can become a central concern and dominate the lives of those struggling with anorexia. When an individual struggles with anorexia they often engage in restrictive eating habits, which can involve limiting or eliminating specific foods or food groups. Often individuals struggling with anorexia experience high levels of guilt after eating or exceeding a specific caloric limit.
Those with anorexia nervosa may experience resulting physiological symptoms from food restricting behaviors, including:
- Bone thinning
- Cardiovascular issues
- Drop in body temperature, which may cause growth of fine hair over the body to preserve heat
- Muscle loss
- Infrequent or absent menstruation
In addition to physiological effects, anorexia nervosa commonly co-occurs with other psychological illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Another common eating disorder is Bulimia Nervosa. Individuals struggling with bulimia nervosa share the distressing preoccupation with their weight and body shape, which can interfere with daily life. However, a critical difference between anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa is that individuals struggling with bulimia often engage in both binging and purging behaviors (vomiting, or laxative use), rather than strictly restricting their food intake.
A person with bulimia nervosa may experience physiological symptoms such as:
- Pain and damage to the esophagus
- Tooth decay
- Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance
- Gastrointestinal damage
Similarly to anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa may co-occur with anxiety disorders, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Although eating disorders can cause suffers and their families extreme distress, it’s important to understand that evidence-based treatment is available, and is essential for recovery. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the most evidence-based form of psychotherapy, is a highly recommended treatment approach for those struggling with both anorexia and bulimia. CBT focuses on helping the client recognize and change unhelpful thought patterns, which often drive the disorder. When individuals are able to change their thoughts, this will often help them change unhelpful behaviors and help them learn skills to help manage their disorder. For eating disorders specifically, CBT addresses the unhelpful thinking patterns of poor self-evaluation and preoccupation and importance of thinness, as well as the problematic behaviors of dietary restriction and binging and purging.
At GroundWork Counseling, our therapists specialize in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and offer CBT treatment for individuals struggling with disordered eating patterns. Our therapists recognize that eating disorders often include other psychological consequences such as anxiety, depression, perfectionism and impulsivity.