A Coping Mechanism

However, getting someone with an eating disorder to treatment is often difficult since persons act upon their eating disorders (restricting, bingeing, purging, etc.) as ways of dealing with emotional distress. Eating disorders are symptoms of underlying emotional distress, a way to numb or distract from underlying painful feelings.

Controlling food intake through eating disordered behavior is a maladaptive coping mechanism. Filling up with food may be an attempt to fill emotional needs.

In addition to individual personality and family dynamics, a correlation between emotional, physical, and sexual abuse and eating disorders has been established. These present a number of issues which must be addressed: fear of foods, body image distortions, problems with relationships, control, and trust, to name a few.

Socio-cultural influences are widespread and pervasive, and present an environment in which a person with low esteem could be encouraged to seek external validation by attempting to conform to unrealistic media images. Persons involved in a sport, art, or profession with emphasis on weight or appearance are a higher risk for development of eating disorders: models, gymnasts, divers, body builders, jockeys, wrestlers, distance runners, and ballet dancers, for example.

A Team Approach to Treatment
Since eating disorders are a complicated interplay of various factors, treatment necessitates a multi-disciplinary team approach: physician, therapist, nutritionist. In addition, expressive arts therapists and exercise specialists can be a valuable part of the treatment team. Clients need individual, group, expressive, cognitive, and family therapy; body image treatment, stress management; nutrition education and counseling and education. Confidential support groups are a helpful adjunct to treatment.

Individuals are encouraged to engage in treatment and to remain in treatment as long as necessary. Relapses are an expected part of recovery and clients are encouraged to ask themselves that’s really bothering them when they feel like re-engaging in eating-disordered behaviors. This allows the relapse to become a learning experience.

Recovery from eating disorders is a long-term process, and while a small portion become chronic and still others struggle with periodic lapses, many persons do recover.Copyright1998
Linda Ciotola, M.Ed., CHES, (ret.), TEP