Eating disorders are complex illnesses. A perfectionist temperament, traumatic body based experience and family history may increase risk. Interventions targeting nutrition, mindset, emotion and behavior all are part of the treatment. Families are understandably confused about how to best support their loved ones. Family interventions and meal support are extremely important for successful treatment. Patients do better with a firm but supportive (not controlling or judging!) caring treatment team. We focus on this in our care at McCallum Place.
Individuals with eating disorders typically have trouble adjusting to change, or have problems with “set shift.” This means that adjusting to new circumstances such as new body size and shape, new social situations, moving away from home and even treatment transitions typically cause more distress, anxiety and confusion than you might expect. For this reason, adults going through life transitions, such as heading off to college, loss of a relationship or death of a parent may be more vulnerable to relapse.
Anorexia affects thinking, making it hard to see things in context. Patients do not see the big picture when it comes to their fears, behavior and health. They restrict and avoid fullness to avoid distress. Avoidance is a maladaptive strategy of coping with fears. In theory we should not avoid things that increase our chance of survival, health and wellbeing.
Patients with eating disorders may avoid accepting a natural body weight necessary to reverse the hungry brain mindset. They may avoid food groups that are necessary for a balanced diet and organ function or body sensations related to refeeding after a period of restriction such as fullness. Support to accept the discomfort and reintroduction of foods that have been omitted is an important component of treatment. Avoiding discomfort will always backfire as it will increase the vulnerability to uncomfortable sensations in the long run.
Cognitive reappraisal or thinking a different way about uncomfortable feelings can help to reduce the emotional reactivity that drives rigid and restrictive eating. Most of the evidence based therapies we use (i.e.: CBT, ACT, Exposure, etc.) directly target these concerns.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder like anorexia, please contact McCallum Place for a free and confidential assessment. We will help you follow a personalized path to recovery.