A misconception about the spectrum of disordered eating — from clinically diagnosed disorders to chronic dieting and emotional eating — is the focus on body weight or shape. Sure, that weight/shape focus can play a part and can definitely exacerbate behaviors, symptoms and drives to control the body or use food or exercise against one’s own body. But, the underbelly of using food and/or exercise to control and cope is a complex field of emotions and struggles begging to be seen, heard, held and possibly managed.
Sometimes one is aware of the distress; Sometimes one is unconscious of the underlying turmoil. (Usually and especially in early healing, it’s the latter. Regardless, if you’re struggling with food, exercise or your body, and you’re reading this, you probably have a feeling there’s something deeper to chew on in a metaphorically, healing way.) But, the body holds the stories, and most definitely, the variety of coping mechanisms that show up as disordered eating are actually passageways to know one’s deeper truths.
How does someone begin to become aware of his/her underlying needs, truths and hungers? Whether a person seeks help via outpatient, inpatient or residential treatment (in a nutshell that means with an individual therapist or in a treatment center), feeling safe, heard and connected with a therapist or collaborative team sets the foundation to stabilize symptoms, then focus on trauma-informed cognitive and somatic therapies. (If you are reading this and want suggestions for treatment teams that offer medical and holistic approaches, which is an ideal combo, feel free to contact me for suggestions).
In order to shed the skin of behaviors/distortions that hold you back from a more liberated and authentic life, a variety of therapeutic approaches are important to explore along your unique journey. To name a few, these therapies might include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Mindfulness, Expressive Arts Therapies and Somatic Psychotherapy. (You can click on each of those for a quick summary of their approaches.) While they all have different and valuable approaches, the two things they all have in common are:
They help to unpack and uncover why you use unhealthy food/exercise behaviors as coping mechanisms as well as explore what you specifically need to heal along your unique path.
They provide you with tools of empowerment by offering new windows of possibilities, new ways to view problems and think, new communications skills, new ways to tolerate distress and emotions, new body and intra/interpersonal awareness and self-care, etc.
Many people are surprised and definitely disappointed that seeking treatment is not a one-and-done deal. It takes time, patience, courage and practice. It’s two steps forward, one step back. It’s a lifestyle change, not a quick fix. Often it feels like shedding a skin, feeling perhaps even more sensitive than before, which might have led you to use unhealthy behaviors to cope in the first place! But, I’m writing to tell you healing from disordered eating is not only possible, the journey is invaluable and transformational as you apply what you’ve learned and embody the light you already hold. Think of it like Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors, like a show that surpasses your imagination and brings you possibility, creativity and freedom.
From an outpatient standpoint, I offer an integrative psychotherapeutic approach for eating disorders in Atlanta, meaning we can work through cognitive and somatic therapies based on what your body, heart and mind need. I believe in this work and am always happy to have a 15-minute phone chat to discuss your options or make recommendations. Contact me here if you’re interested.
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