Understanding And Coping With Disordered Eating Through Therapy

Disordered eating is a term used to describe a range of abnormal eating behaviours that can significantly impact an individual’s physical and mental well-being. These behaviours can be challenging to understand, from restrictive eating to binge eating. Still, the good news is that therapy can be an effective tool in addressing these issues. In this blog post, we’ll explore the different types of disordered eating, the factors that can contribute to it, and the various therapeutic approaches to help individuals overcome these challenges.

What Is Disordered Eating?

Disordered eating refers to a range of abnormal eating behaviours that can have a negative impact on an individual’s physical and mental well-being. These behaviours can include restrictive eating, binge eating, and purging. They can lead to various health problems, including malnutrition, heart disease, and even death.

Is Disordered Eating The Same as an Eating Disorder?

Disordered eating and eating disorders are similar in that they both involve abnormal eating behaviours and can have a negative impact on an individual’s physical and mental well-being. However, there are some key differences between the two terms.

Eating disorders are a group of severe mental illnesses characterised by abnormal eating behaviours, such as restrictive eating, binge eating, and purging, as well as an intense preoccupation with body weight and shape. The most common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. They can lead to various health problems, including heart disease, kidney failure, and even death.

Disordered eating, on the other hand, refers to a range of abnormal eating behaviours that may not meet the full criteria for a formal eating disorder diagnosis but can still have a negative impact on an individual’s physical and mental well-being. Disordered eating can include restrictive eating, binge eating, and purging. Still, these behaviours may not be as severe or as frequent as eating disorders. Disordered eating can be a precursor to the development of an eating disorder. It can be a less severe form of eating that can still be harmful if left untreated.

In summary, disordered eating refers to a range of abnormal eating behaviours that may not meet the full criteria for a formal eating disorder diagnosis but can still have a negative impact on an individual’s physical and mental well-being. Eating disorders are a group of severe mental illnesses characterised by abnormal eating behaviours, such as restrictive eating, binge eating, and purging, as well as an intense preoccupation with body weight and shape.

Coping With Disordered Eating

Various factors can contribute to disordered eating, including cultural and societal pressures, past trauma, and negative body image. Society often promotes a narrow definition of beauty and an obsession with thinness, which can lead to pressure to conform to these standards and result in disordered eating. Additionally, past trauma, such as abuse or neglect, can contribute to disordered eating as individuals may use food as a form of self-soothing or self-punishment. Negative body image, the way an individual perceives their body, can also play a role in disordered eating. In this, individuals may use food to try to change their bodies.

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Therapy can be an effective tool in addressing disordered eating. Different therapeutic approaches can help overcome these challenges, including integrative and transpersonal therapy and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT). These therapies can help individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours, learn coping mechanisms, and develop a more positive self-image. Studies have shown that therapy can effectively treat disordered eating, with up to 75% of individuals experiencing improvement with treatment.

Signs That You Are Struggling With Disordered Eating:

Several signs and symptoms may indicate that someone is struggling with disordered eating. These can include:

  1. Restrictive eating: Restricting food intake, cutting out entire food groups, or following strict diets.
  2. Binge eating: Consuming large amounts of food in a short period, often accompanied by feelings of guilt or shame.
  3. Purging: Inducing vomiting, using laxatives, or engaging in excessive exercise to compensate for food intake.
  4. Obsessive thoughts about food, weight, and body shape: Preoccupation with food, weight, and body shape, and an excessive focus on these thoughts.
  5. Negative body image: Feelings of shame, self-loathing, or dissatisfaction with one’s body shape or weight.
  6. Changing eating habits: Eating habits may change, such as eating secretly, avoiding social situations, or avoiding certain foods.
  7. Physical changes: Rapid weight loss or weight gain, irregular menstrual cycles, or other physical changes.
  8. Emotional changes: Low self-esteem, depression, or anxiety are common emotional changes that can be seen in individuals with disordered eating.

It’s important to note that not everyone who struggles with disordered eating will have all these symptoms, which can vary in severity. Suppose you’re concerned that you or someone you know may be struggling with disordered eating. In that case, it’s essential to seek help from a medical or mental health professional. They can help determine whether disordered eating is present and what the best course of treatment may be.

Self-Help With Disordered Eating 

For individuals currently struggling with disordered eating, it’s important to remember that change takes time, and being gentle and compassionate with yourself is essential. Here are some practical tips for coping with disordered eating:

  • Practice mindfulness: Pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. This can help you better understand your triggers and learn how to respond differently.
  • Reject diet culture: Diets don’t work and often lead to disordered eating. Instead, focus on intuitive eating and listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues.
  • Seek support: Whether it’s from a therapist, a support group, or a loved one, having a supportive network can make a big difference in your recovery.
  • Be kind to yourself: Remember that recovery is a journey and it’s important to treat yourself with compassion and understanding.
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Coping With Disordered Eating

Ways That Therapy Can Help With Disordered Eating

Identifying and Challenging Negative Thoughts: Therapy can help individuals identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs about their bodies, food and weight. These can include thoughts such as “I’m not good enough”, “I’m too fat”, or “I’ll never be happy with my body”. Individuals can develop a more positive self-image and relationship with food by identifying these thoughts and challenging their validity.

Understanding the Underlying Issues: Therapy can help individuals understand the underlying issues contributing to their disordered eating. These include past traumas, cultural and societal pressures, or negative body image. Individuals can develop strategies to manage these issues and improve their relationship with food by understanding them.

Developing Managing Skills: Therapy can teach individuals coping mechanisms to help them deal with negative emotions and thoughts associated with their disordered eating. These can include mindfulness and self-compassion techniques and strategies for dealing with triggers and setbacks.

Improving Self-Esteem: Therapy can help individuals improve their self-esteem and self-worth. This can be done by focusing on their strengths and accomplishments rather than their physical appearance.

Addressing Intersectionality: People from different communities may have unique experiences that shape their relationship with food. Therapy can help individuals navigate the intersection of their identities and how they have been shaped by cultural and socio-economic.

In conclusion, therapy can be an effective tool in addressing disordered eating. Through therapy, individuals can identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs, understanding the underlying issues contributing to their disordered eating. Therapy can also help develop coping skills, improve self-esteem, and address intersectionality. It’s important to remember that change takes time and that therapy is a process that requires patience and commitment. If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating, seeking help from a qualified therapist is crucial in overcoming these challenges and developing a healthier relationship with food. Remember, recovery is possible and you are not alone.

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