It’s estimated that 20 million women and 10 million men will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives. People with eating disorders take such concerns to extremes, developing abnormal eating habits that threaten their well-being. Psychotherapy can help people recover from these dangerous disorders.

People with anorexia nervosa have a distorted body image that causes them to see themselves as overweight even when they’re dangerously thin. Often refusing to eat, exercising compulsively, and developing unusual habits such as refusing to eat in front of others, they lose excessive amounts of weight.

Certain psychological factors and personality traits may predispose people to developing eating disorders. Many people with eating disorders may suffer from low self-esteem, feelings of helplessness, and intense dissatisfaction with the way they look. People with anorexia tend to be perfectionistic.

A wide range of situations can precipitate eating disorders in susceptible individuals. Individuals may be participating in gymnastics or other sports that emphasize low weight or a certain body image. Negative emotions or traumas can also trigger disorders. Even a happy event, such as giving birth, can lead to disorders because of the stressful impact of the event on an individual’s new role and body image.

Eating disorders are also associated with other mental disorders like depression. Researchers don’t yet know whether eating disorders are symptoms of such problems or whether the problems develop because of the isolation, stigma, and physiological changes wrought by the eating disorders themselves.

A psychologist can help to identify the underlying issues and develop a treatment plan to help a patient work through some of the destructive thoughts and behaviors and replace them with more positive ones. For example, the focus may be on overall health and well-being, rather than weight.

Simply changing one’s thoughts and behaviors may not be enough, however. A psychologist may recommend evidence-based treatments such as psychotherapy to help address the underlying psychological issues of the eating disorder, or it may be used to focus on improving one’s personal relationships. It may involve helping one get beyond an event or situation that triggered the disorder in the first place.

The sooner treatment starts, the better. The longer abnormal eating patterns continue, the more deeply ingrained they become and the more difficult they are to treat.

Eating disorders can severely impair one’s functioning and health. But the prospects for long-term recovery are good for those who seek help from appropriate professionals. Qualified therapists, such as licensed psychologists with experience in this area, can help those who suffer from eating disorders regain control of their eating behaviors and their lives.

Excerpted from:
American Psychological Association February 25, 2020

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