"I was able 'to sit' with my feelings and emotions. I no longer have the need to binge or purge this emotions" shared my client who worked through their Eating disorders.
Eating disorders can be difficult to understand unless you have been through one. Most people is aware of anorexia or bulimia however, there are many types of eating disorders that you might not hear yet; such as AFRID (Avoidance/restricted Food Intake Disorder).
Diagnosis for eating disorders can be very complicated too because the overlapping symptoms and possibly it moves between symptoms at different point of your life.
If you are experiencing some symptoms of eating disorders (some key ones: extreme anxiety around eating, avoidance or restriction of certain foods, or binge eating) - you know, it is not your fault! In fact, in many cases, it could be in your genes; studies on eating disorders suggest about 50% of the risk is attributed to genetic factors. Eating disorder are known to be caused by a combination of various factors such genetic, temperamental, such as personality traits as well as external influences such as trauma, cultural idea, social pressure or other mental health conditions. Anxiety, loneliness and depression and feeling lack of control and low self-esteem can be the red flags for eating disorders.
However, the most common connection between people with eating disorders comprises of difficulties in expressing and coping with emotions or feelings.
The link between emotion avoidance and eating disorders
Emotion avoidance can be described as behaviours that are intended to suppress any emotional response from taking a place such as anger, sadness, fear, anxiety or loneliness. Individuals affected with eating disorders tend to seek refuge in continuous eating or stop eating as an unconscious effort to cope with the situation and feel better.
People use eating disorder to numb their emotions, and it is often negative emotions and trauma, especially trauma they haven't addressed in healthy way or come to term with .
For example, for many people suffering with anorexia tend to restrict their food intake when they experience feelings of loneliness and sadness, because this gives them a sense of control of the situation - it is a false sense control.
For people struggling with binge eating and purging is often associated with impulse control when upset and food offers feeling of comfort and relief. Many people struggling binge eating and purging tend to use food as distraction from their difficult feelings and worries of the real world. It's important to notice the subtle signs of binge eating disorder, including hoarding food, or a person showing regret after bingeing an abnormal amount of food. You may also take note of empty food wrappers or even hidden food containers, if the person is concealing their over-eating behaviours.
However, one thing that almost all my clients with eating disorders have in common is difficulty in expressing, processing and coping with their difficult emotions.
Eating disorders treatment involves a variety of tools and strategies for helping patients to recover and improve their quality of lives. One important element is helping them to learn how to identify and process their emotions, sit with these emotions, not to avoid aversive emotional state. More so, patients with eating disorders are also not competent in correctly identifying emotions and are not able to respond to feeling overwhelmed from emotional distress.
Some treatments could be correcting growth and managing nutrients, trying to become more comfortable eating in front of others, becoming less fearful of chocking or vomiting. Try to increase your interests in food and trying to reduce anxiety surrounding eating.
For example, for younger children, a therapy called desensitisation therapy is often used to help very young children. It involves something know as the 'playtime' approach which tries to help the child feel comfortable with the feel, smell and sight of foods.
Another type of therapy is known as exposure which is used to help remove the fear of anxiety attached to food. This involves relaxation techniques, writing and talking about the avoided foods that generally seem to negatively impact the individual. Learning positive coping skills for the fear and anxiety surrounding food.
CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) is a very common type of therapy in many disorders and mental health-related issues and having unhealthy thoughts and behaviour patterns are sometimes the root of where the eating disorder comes from. CBT helps individuals identify and change self-destructive patterns of thought and behaviour.
Another therapy includes Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) is another form of talk therapy and is commonly used for eating disorders treatment. DBT helps people try to live mindfully and being able to cope effectively with negative sensations and emotions.
It is therefore, necessary to share with patients that their eating disorders behaviours are often a coping mechanisms that they are facilitating to try to regulate their emotions. These behaviours may have helped them to get through some difficulties and traumatic experiences, however, these are temporary.
The key is to try to reach our for help from your family, friends, or professionals such as doctor/GP or seeing a counsellor/therapist would be beneficial as they can help with eating disorder and the anxiety arounds it.
With treatment, support and family, people with eating disorders can learn how to understand their relationship with themselves, food and their body. Finally, part of living a meaningful life is being able to experience all of emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant.