Can We Use CBT For Eating Disorders?
Cognitive behavior therapy, or CBT, can help change the way we think. For that reason, some healthcare providers recommend CBT for eating disorders. CBT lets us see our thoughts from a distance. Ergo, we find ourselves distinct and separated from them. We see that they do not define us. What we think does not become synonymous with our identity.
About 9% of the world’s population struggle with an eating disorder. The United States has nearly 29 million citizens currently battling an eating disorder. Eating disorders impact everyone. Likely, you have endured an eating disorder yourself. If not, you know someone who has.
In this blog, Riverwalk Recovery tackles the following:
- What is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)?
- What is an eating disorder?
- Are there different kinds of eating disorders?
- How can CBT help eating disorder recovery?
- What if I want more information about CBT for eating disorders?
What Is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)?
The history of CBT dates to the 1960s under Dr. Aaron T. Beck. Dr. Beck coined the term “automatic thoughts.” This term refers to our experience of thoughts as sudden occurrences out of our control. Dr. Beck’s approach encouraged clients not to take their thoughts at face value. Rather, clients ought to dispute and question their thoughts.
Psychologist Donald Robertson has written at length about the relationship between CBT and Stoic philosophy. In this article, Robertson wrote, “Modern cognitive approaches to psychotherapy are based on the premise that our emotions are largely (if not exclusively) determined by our underlying beliefs.”
Sounds Great. But How Can CBT Help Someone?
The Stoic philosopher Epictetus began life as a slave. He wrote a book called The Enchiridion. He wrote, “When therefore we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never attribute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own principles.” To paraphrase, life doesn’t cause us. People don’t make us suffer. We do that all on our own.
From a CBT perspective, humans suffer because of our thinking. We go through life with counterproductive and unhealthy assumptions. We believe false things about life, people, and the world. CBT lets us discover these kinds of underlying assumptions and beliefs.
CBT aims for clients to understand their freedom and power. When you have a thought, you have a thought. The thought says nothing about you as a person. It only attaches itself to your identity because you allow it to. CBT teaches clients to look underneath their thoughts. To become conscious of how their thoughts operate. And then, to give those thoughts a new operating pattern.
What Are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders illustrate the strength of the connection of the mind and the body. The mind believes that the body appears a certain way. Alternately, the mind may idealize a certain body size or shape. Next, both the mind and the body develop a maladaptive relationship with food. Eating disorders not only influence how we think about food. They also affect how and when we eat.
Are There Different Kinds Of Eating Disorders?
No two eating disorder recovery journeys have the same characteristics. Eating disorders may appear similar in different people. Clients in Riverwalk Recovery’s eating disorder programs may relate to, and identify with, one another. That said, different kinds of eating disorders exist.
Some eating disorders motivate people to consume very meager amounts of food. Other people might eat large quantities of food in a short time frame. These people may feel that they cannot control their eating habits and will express regret after eating. Still others could induce themselves to vomit. All eating disorders cause harm.
Specific Eating Disorders
Several different eating disorders exist. The below list does not include every disorder. Rather, it touches on the most common eating disorders. If you’d like more information on an eating disorder, make a point to speak to your treatment provider.
Researchers classify eating disorders as:
- Anorexia Nervosa: Severely limit the intake of specific foods (or all food). May go days without eating while exercising compulsively.
- Bulimia Nervosa: Eat a good deal of food before making themselves throw up. Research calls this practice binging and purging.
- Binge Eating Disorder (BED): Binge eaters may binge, eating lots of food quickly. They might also extend a single meal into multiple hours.
- Avoidant Restrictive Foot Intake Disorder (ARFID): A relatively new diagnosis, those with ARFID malnourish themselves by not eating in spite of available food.
- Pica: eating inedible substances that don’t nourish the body
If you have any of these kinds of experiences, you may have an undiagnosed eating disorder. Should you suspect that someone you know suffers from an eating disorder, keep reading to learn how to help.
How Can CBT Help Eating Disorder Recovery
We learned that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) helps us find a foothold among out thoughts. CBT gives us an anchor. Using the principles of CBT, we can remain grounded. In the context of eating disorders, CBT would have us scrutinize our thoughts.
CBT can help sufferers of bulimia nervosa. It does so by having them monitor, and engage with, their own thoughts. This kind of vigilance (“self-monitoring”) helps the sufferer access a deeper meaning beneath the eating disorder. Self-monitoring also aids one in remaining present with their suffering right now. Thus, one gains perspective on how to maintain agency over something that felt automatic.
Researchers have developed an enhanced model of CBT specifically for eating disorders. It breaks recovery into four separate stages. The process dedicates each step to one particular recovery goal.
What If I Want More Info About CBT For Eating Disorders?
We all deserve food. And we all deserve to love food in a healthy, meaningful way. Our staff at Riverwalk Recovery have personally witnessed people recover from eating disorders. Take heart. Hope exists for you too.
Perhaps you struggle with an eating disorder. Or, maybe you care about someone who does. For information about admission, call Riverwalk Recovery now! Not ready to talk? Complete the contact form below.