Eating Disorder & Body Image
n eating disorder is a devastating, isolating mental health condition. While many people believe that eating disorders develop simply from a desire to lose weight, these illnesses almost always form as a coping mechanism for other painful life experiences. You may obsess over your appearance, your weight, or your eating as a way to exert control when you feel like you’re falling apart.
Because your eating disorder is such an effective distraction or coping mechanism, embracing treatment can be very difficult. However, a life of freedom from your eating disorder will offer you so much more than a life of fear, anxiety, and shame. You have the strength to face your underlying challenges, dismantle your disordered eating, and achieve a healthy body and mind. Eating disorder therapy can be your first step toward wellness.
6 Types of Eating Disorders and Body Image Disorders
The DSM outlines several types of eating disorders with specific diagnostic criteria. Your struggles may closely match one diagnosis, or you may feel like your eating disorder changes by the day. Regardless of whether or not you receive a formal diagnosis, you are deserving of support if you’re struggling with food or body image.
Anorexia nervosa is characterized by low body weight, intense fear of gaining weight, a distorted body image, and restrictive eating behaviors. People with anorexia may have excessively strict rules about when they can eat, what they can eat, and how they can eat. No matter how much weight they lose, they feel like they cannot stop.
The defining experience of bulimia nervosa is binging and purging, or the over-consumption of food followed by an attempt to compensate. When you binge, you might feel completely out of control. Then, in an effort to reverse the episode, you try to purge by vomiting, overexercising, fasting, or engaging in another unhealthy behavior.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
Like bulimia, BED causes episodes of binge eating, but these episodes are not followed by compensatory behaviors. However, you still may feel intense shame or guilt about the episode and try to hide the behavior from others.
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
ARFID is an eating disorder characterized by avoidance of many food groups or specific foods. While ARFID often develops in early childhood, it can continue into adulthood and cause extreme distress when you eat.
Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED)
OSFED is a diagnosis for those who have an eating disorder but don’t meet the specific criteria for other conditions. It encompasses a wide variety of beliefs and behaviors surrounding food, exercise, weight, and body image.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)
BDD is a body image disorder that causes an obsession with a particular part of your body. If you have BDD, you may perceive yourself to be much larger than you truly are, or you might spend the majority of your day worrying about a flaw in your appearance.
4 Signs You Have an Eating Disorder
If you’re looking up information about eating disorders, it’s likely that you have some disordered thoughts or behaviors. Our minds are very good at minimizing and invalidating our own problems, though. You might go months or years without realizing that you have an eating disorder or accepting that your struggle is worthy of treatment.
By knowing the warning signs, you can more easily recognize an eating disorder in yourself or a loved one. Here are some of the most common signs of an eating disorder:
Food, weight, or body image is always on your mind.
While food is something that most people think about multiple times per day, it shouldn’t be the main idea always circulating around your mind. You may have an eating disorder if food or weight are the first things you think about when you wake up or if these obsessive thoughts are your mind’s “default” setting throughout the day.
You feel anxious, guilty, or depressed after eating.
Eating can become a highly emotional experience when you have an eating disorder. You may try to avoid food so that you don’t have to face these emotions, and you may feel powerful waves of anxiety or shame after a meal.
Following your food rules brings you comfort, and you hate breaking your routine.
Eating disorders are coping mechanisms, so your food-related routines or rituals may feel very soothing and comforting. When you can’t complete your rituals, you might start feeling anxious or panicky.
You conceal your eating habits from your loved ones.
Eating alone, hiding your food, or doing anything else to conceal your eating habits may be a sign that you’re struggling with an eating disorder. While it’s completely normal to desire privacy, you shouldn’t feel like you have to hide something as universal as eating from your friends or family.
How Eating Disorder Therapy Helps
You do not have to let your eating disorder control your life. With the help of an eating disorder therapist, you can overcome this challenge and relieve yourself of the constant pain and anxiety that your disorder causes.
The following are some of the key achievements you can work toward in eating disorder therapy:
Explore the root cause of your eating disorder.
Eating disorders can develop in response to trauma, stress, or other mental health conditions. Recovering from your eating disorder without addressing the underlying cause can be extremely difficult because it leaves you exposed to face your challenges without your coping mechanism. Your therapist will support you as you process the root cause of your disorder so that you no longer cling to your disordered eating for security.
Stay safe and healthy on the healing journey.
Not only do eating disorders affect your mental health, but they can also cause serious physical harm. Recovery takes a long time and rarely happens in a linear fashion. Your therapist can help you put harm reduction measures in place so that you can protect your physical health to the best of your ability as you take small steps toward recovery.
Discover positive coping strategies.
Overcoming your eating disorder may require you to replace your harmful coping mechanisms with positive ones. You might not be able to avoid the stress or trauma that caused your eating disorder in the first place, but you can learn healthier ways to process your emotions and calm yourself down during challenging moments.
Improve your self-esteem and self-image.
Most people with eating disorders have low self-esteem or self-confidence. Your disorder may have developed from deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy, or your self-esteem may have taken a nosedive after the disorder took hold in your mind. Regardless of the cause of your low self-esteem, eating disorder therapy can teach you how to view yourself, your body, and your mind more positively.
Your disordered thoughts may be hard to ignore, but your eating disorder does not define you. You are so much more than your disorder, and you have so much to offer the world. If you’re ready to heal and move forward, you can reach out to The Beverly Hills Therapy Group to connect with an eating disorder therapist in Los Angeles. We know how overwhelming the idea of recovery can seem, but we are here to support you as you take charge of your health.