Therapy for Eating Disorders and Related Behaviors

woman holding a weight scale

The term “eating disorder” is typically used to refer to either anorexia nervosa (“anorexia”) or bulimia nervosa (“bulimia”). However, eating disorders actually encompass a much greater range of abnormal or concerning eating patterns and behaviors.

Anorexia and Bulimia

Anorexia is characterized by an irrational and extreme fear of weight gain and significantly restricting one’s food intake, which results in low body weight. It’s typically accompanied by a distorted body image, abnormal eating habits, an obsession with thinness, and a belief of being “too fat” despite being underweight.

Bulimia is characterized by similar difficulties with body image and excessive concern about one’s weight; however, this disorder involves binge eating (consuming large amounts of food in short time periods) and purging (ridding the body of food/calories often by vomiting, laxative use, excessive exercise, or diuretics).

It’s not uncommon for individuals to alternate between behaviors of both disorders, starving themselves for a period of time followed by bingeing and purging behaviors. Besides the extreme psychological distress involved, both anorexia and bulimia can cause severe and life-threatening health problems. Seeking professional treatment is not just a good idea, but truly can be a matter of life or death.

Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified

An additional disorder called Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified exists in which an individual may meet some but not all of the criteria of anorexia or bulimia. An individual may engage in abnormal or unhealthy eating habits such as purging after eating only small amounts of food, excessive exercising without abnormal eating, limiting intake to only very specific foods or certain times of the day, or bingeing without any purging behaviors. Ultimately any behavior that interferes with a healthy and balanced eating lifestyle and/or involves significant body image concerns is cause for concern, both psychologically and physically.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

Seeking professional help as early as possible is the best option for being able to move forward living a healthy and fulfilling life. Treatment typically involves a combination of nutrition counseling, medical consultation, and psychological therapy. From a psychological standpoint, treatment generally involves cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy. We’ll assist you address unhealthy eating patterns and behaviors, maladaptive thoughts, body image distortions, relationship factors that have influenced the behaviors or are being impacted by them, and symptoms of depression or anxiety that often accompany eating disorders.