July 5, 2023

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques for Eating Disorders

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques for Eating Disorders

Are you tired of an endless cycle of dieting and hating yourself for how you look? Have you noticed that no matter how much weight you gain or lose you still can’t stand the reflection looking back at you? Do you feel out-of-control when you eat? If any of this sounds like you, you may be suffering from an eating disorder, these experiences don’t have to be your life, and this way of living does not need to be forever. There are strategies out there designed to help break free from this seemingly endless cycle of self-hatred and body sabotage. If you feel like you’ve tried it all or are just wanting to try something new, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, otherwise known as CBT, may be able to help you. In this article, we will be answering the following questions: What are the success rates of CBT for eating disorders? How can I train my mind to stop binge eating? Does CBT work for anorexia? What about CBT for overeating? If you are curious about how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for eating disorders may be able to help you, be sure to read on. 

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

 First you might be wondering what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy even is. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an evidenced-based therapeutic treatment for many different mental health conditions, including eating disorders. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been shown to be effective in treating anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and other eating disorders. The success rates for long-lasting and full recovery are estimated to be as high as 60% for anorexia nervosa, 64.4% for binge-eating disorder, and 54% for bulimia nervosa. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has an emphasis on understanding and modifying a person’s behaviors through exploring how a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are uniquely connected to one another. There are different components to CBT that therapy clients will learn through psychoeducation, such as irrational thinking patterns or cognitive distortions, automatic thoughts, the cognitive model, and core beliefs. A CBT therapist will teach clients what all these things are and will work with clients to reframe unhelpful, negative thinking patterns as well as assist in modifying destructive behaviors. 

Effectiveness of CBT for binge eating disorder & other eating disorders

Next, we will be talking about how CBT can help with binge-eating disorder and other eating disorders specifically. Some possible benefits you may notice while or after completing CBT for binge-eating disorder are a heightened sense of being in control while eating, increased peacefulness while around food, a decrease in body-image-related distress, increased physical health, and increased overall life satisfaction. With proper treatment and treatment compliance, CBT will be able to assist clients in stopping the restrict-binge cycle and minimize or eliminate urges to restrict food or binge eat. Your CBT therapist will be able to assist you in understanding how you are using the act of eating or not eating to cope with difficult emotions or a poor self-image. You may also notice an increased level of peacefulness while around food when going through CBT, as it helps clients see that food is not the enemy or answer for a difficult body image or difficult emotions. Rather, food and the process of eating are merely vital parts of our process of being. When we eat in healthy, balanced ways, food and eating become more positive, enjoyable, and peaceful parts of our day. 

The restrict-binge cycle is a part of binge-eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, and other eating disorders. Restricting and binging are thought by some to be opposites, but for many they are opposite sides of the same coin. They have been known to work together to cause chaos for those affected by the restrict-binge cycle, and CBT can assist in breaking this cycle. Those with eating disorders often place a high degree of importance on weight and body shape or size. Through CBT, clients will work together with their therapist to understand this better and learn how an increased state of body acceptance, body neutrality, body compassion, body respect, and/or body positivity can be achieved. CBT for eating disorders can improve clients’ physical health, and through the process of recovery, our bodies and minds can begin to heal and our overall life satisfaction increases as a result.  

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy strategies for eating disorders

You may be wondering how exactly CBT can be applied to eating disorders within the realm of everyday life. Next, I will go over some CBT strategies to use in your day-to-day life. Please note that anything read here is not a substitute for therapy and any strategies attempted are recommended to be used in conjunction with a professional. 

CBT strategies to try at home

 Here are some CBT-based strategies that those suffering with eating disorders may try. These strategies are not a replacement for seeking out professional support. Strategies include noticing one’s own thoughts and feelings before a period of restriction, binging, or purging, paying special attention to hunger and fullness cues, and replacing negative coping strategies with more positive coping strategies. By noticing one’s own thoughts and feelings before a period of restriction, binging, or purging, we can better understand the underlying reasons for maladaptive behaviors. Maybe we are doing this because of a difficult emotion, because we do not like the way we look, or because it has grown into a habit which has become a comforting part of our day. 

When we pay more attention to our hunger and fullness cues, we can become more in tune with our bodies. By listening to when we are hungry and full, we know when the time to start or stop eating has come. It should be noted that it is normal for some who are affected with an eating disorder to lose touch with their hunger and fullness cues after a prolonged period of disordered eating. If this has happened to you, you will need to talk to a professional about the process needed to get your internal hunger and fullness cues back. By replacing negative coping strategies with positive coping strategies, we learn to say goodbye to behaviors that hurt us and hello to strategies designed to make us feel our best long term. One example of a positive coping strategy is positive self-talk (e.g., “I can do this, this is hard, but I am capable of doing hard things”). By utilizing positive self-talk, we may notice ourselves feeling more capable and confident, which in turn increases self-esteem. By increasing our self-esteem, we increase our chances of recovery since low self-esteem is correlated with higher incidence rates of disordered eating. 

How professionals use CBT to treat eating disorders

To close out this article, I will explain how CBT is applied in a clinical setting. Finding a CBT therapist with whom you click well is a vital part of this process. You will need to find a therapist with whom you feel comfortable sharing your honest feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Trust is vital. Your CBT therapist may recommend things like keeping a journal, completing therapy-related homework assignments, supplementing treatment with the aid of an eating-disorder-informed dietitian, and seeking out medical care in order to address any physical needs that may arise as a symptom of your eating disorder. In some cases, medication may be a beneficial addition to CBT. A psychiatrist will be able to help you determine if medication may assist you in your eating disorder recovery. 

There are many different levels of care or support that someone with an eating disorder may require. Examples of this include outpatient, intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, hospitalization, and residential. Outpatient therapy is best suited for those who are generally medically stable and are able to function in their everyday lives adequately or close to adequately. Those who are in outpatient therapy are usually seen at a frequency of one to two hours per week for therapy. If this description sounds like you, and you find yourself wondering if you could benefit from CBT for your eating disorder or disordered eating, Restored Purpose Counseling Services is here to assist you in your outpatient therapy needs. We are stationed throughout Florida and offer in-person and virtual appointments for those who are looking to put an end to their war with food and their bodies. 


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