An eating disorder is not just about food. Constantly feeling like you need the approval of others or attempting to be perfect in all that you do can be exhausting. Thinking that you must live up to other people’s expectations can create intense emotions that overwhelm to the point that coping in a healthy way seems unattainable. Instead, the coping method can turn negative and self-destructive — sometimes in the form of an eating disorder. Your relationship to food, initially used to make you feel better, can become deeply problematic.
For the past several years much of my therapeutic work has focused on disordered eating. The depth and breadth of this experience, which includes running body image workshops, facilitating eating disorder groups, and spending hundreds of hours in individual sessions, has bolstered my understanding of eating disorders as well as my confidence that I can help.
Initially, I attempt to pinpoint what strong emotion the individual is attempting to avoid. Does it help in avoiding negative emotions? Is it something in your life that you alone have control over? Does it feel like your eating disorder has become a friend? Becoming aware of why food has become the ‘soother’ for big emotions can serve as a step towards understanding and treating an eating disorder.
I believe in developing a unique treatment plan for each client that will reduce the symptoms of the disorder, while increasing self-reliance and strength. Methods I use include:
- Psycho-educational information: to connect the impact of starvation or binge-eating with feeling of irritability, a lack of interest, and concentration problems
- Cognitive restructuring: to address irrational beliefs about how to eat, what to eat, how much to exercise, fears of gaining weight, and feelings of defeat.
- Mood management and coping skills: to help clients become more assertive and learn how to understand and express feelings
At times I may also need to collaborate with a dietician or family physician to ensure that health is not being compromised. In order to get the most effective treatment possible, teamwork is often the best approach.