Eating Disorders

What is it?

An eating disorder is an illness that causes serious disturbances to your everyday diet, such as eating extremely small amounts of food or severely overeating. A person with an eating disorder may have started out just eating smaller or larger amounts of food, but at some point, the urge to eat less or more spiraled out of control. Severe distress or concern about body weight or shape may also characterize an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are real, treatable medical illnesses. They frequently coexist with other illnesses such as depression, substance abuse, or anxiety disorders. Other symptoms, described in the next section can become life-threatening if a person does not receive treatment.

There are several recgonized Eating Disorders:

  • Anorexia nervosa, characterized by refusal to maintain a healthy body weight, an obsessive fear of gaining weight, and an unrealistic perception of current body weight. Some patients can unconsciously suffer from Anorexia nervosa. Anorexia can cause menstruation to stop, and often leads to bone loss, loss of skin integrity, etc. It greatly stresses the heart, increasing the risk of heart attacks and related heart problems. The risk of death is greatly increased in individuals with this disease.
  • Bulimia nervosa, characterized by recurrent binge eating followed by compensatory behaviours such as purging (self-induced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives/diuretics, or excessive exercise) Bulimics may also fast for a certain amount of time following a binge.
  • Binge eating disorder or ‘compulsive overeating’, characterized by binge eating, without compensatory behaviour. People with this condition tend to eat more than necessary, resulting in more stress. This type of eating disorder is even more common than Bulimia or anorexia. This disorder can develop in a wide range of ages and classes.
  • Purging disorder, characterized by recurrent purging to control weight or shape in the absence of binge eating episodes.
  • Food maintenance, characterized by a set of aberrant eating behaviours of children in foster care.
  • Eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS) can refer to a number of disorders. It can refer to a female individual who suffers from anorexia but still has her period, someone who may be at a “healthy weight”, but who has anorexic thought patterns and behaviours, it can mean the sufferer equally participates in some anorexic as well as bulimic behaviours (sometimes referred to as purge-type anorexia), or to any combination of eating disorder behaviours which do not directly put them in a separate category.
  • Pica is characterized by a compulsive craving for eating, chewing or licking non-food items or foods containing no nutrition. These can include such things as paper, chalk, plaster, paint chips, baking soda, starch, glue, rust, ice, coffee grounds, and cigarette ashes.

How can CBT help?

Cognitive-behavioural therapy is an active type of counseling used to treat the mental and emotional elements of an eating disorder. It is widely regarded by doctors as an integral part of treatment for the condition, with no known risks. This type of therapy is done to change how you think and feel about food, eating, and body image. It is also done to help correct poor eating habits and prevent relapse. Individual sessions normally last one hour, and usually are held once a week for as long as you need to master new skills. Because eating disorder behaviours can endure for a long period of time, ongoing treatment is usually required for at least a year or more.

During cognitive-behavioural therapy for eating disorders, you learn:

  • About your illness, its symptoms, and how to predict when symptoms will most likely recur.
  • To keep a diary of eating episodes, binge eating, purging, and the events that may have triggered these episodes.
  • To eat more regularly, with meals or snacks spaced no more than 3 or 4 hours apart.
  • How to change the way you think about your symptoms. This reduces the power the symptoms have over you.
  • How to change self-defeating thought patterns into patterns that are more helpful. This improves mood and your sense of mastery over your life. This helps you avoid future episodes.
  • Ways to handle daily problems and stress differently.

After treatment, you can use your cognitive-behavioural skills throughout your life. You may find that additional “tune-up” sessions help you stay on track with your new skills.