How CBT Can Be Used to Treat Eating Disorders

Generalised Anxiety Disorder

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses. They do not discriminate, and the notion that this is an illness reserved only for teenage girls who want to look like models is slowly changing.

Eating disorders is a term that covers bulimia, anorexia and binge eating. It may seem like a taboo subject to discuss, but eating disorders affect 1.25 million people in the UK, and it has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. We must consider that outside of those 1.25 million some people don’t acknowledge they are suffering and some who are too embarrassed to get help. This week (2-8 March 2020) marked Eating Disorder Awareness Week and is about education and shedding light on an illness that is so often misunderstood in society. We want to share some ways Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is instrumental in the treatment process and explain why eating disorders are so difficult for friends and family who are supporting a loved one with the illness.  

First and foremost, anorexia has very little to do with weight or vanity and more to do with feeling in control.  This illness can be triggered from a single event, and very quickly spiral out of control with certain obsessive personality traits and the slow erosion of personal freedoms as self-punishment. Individuals who come to us at Onebright tell of their struggles and the silent battle they face, day in and day out, with themselves: exercising into oblivion, meticulously counting calories, sneaking around to avoid any confrontation about eating, spinning webs of lies to hide the illness from sight.

Understanding where our thoughts come from is a part of the journey our clients go through when starting CBT. We don’t fully understand what causes an eating disorder, but certain events in an individual’s life have shown a relationship. 

For example, if a family member has a history of addiction, the chances for an eating disorder increase. Eating disorders are an addiction and not a choice. As Psychology Today outlines, with any addiction, these self-destructive behaviours serve a purpose: They come about as a way to numb the pain we feel from everyday life. 

When talking therapy is used to understand how the way we think affects the way we behave, we start to notice the habits we don’t realise we have picked up over time. 

Secondly, recognising the changes that have happened over time. This illness can completely take over a person’s view of reality and distort the image they see reflected in the mirror. Living with Anorexia or Bulimia takes up so much time and energy that when the time comes to challenge our thoughts, we forget what exactly it is we are fighting for. CBT is the leading, evidence-based treatment for eating disorders and our BABCP qualified therapists provide highly professional, quality care for when you need it.  

And thirdly, we begin the process of rewiring thoughts to re-evaluate what it means to be in control. It is about tearing down the destructive inner thoughts and rebuilding the identity of the individual to something other than the illness. Breaking the rules that the illness demands can make you feel as though all control is lost, but coping mechanisms acquired through consistent treatment with CBT can prepare you for letting go, while still feeling safe.  

Given long enough, we can find comfort in our suffering. But it doesn’t have to be like this. You can get yourself back – just as thousands of people who have sought treatment have done. It is time to leave your comfort zone and do something that goes against every feeling in your body. Treatment is different for everyone, and the path to a healthier body and mind won’t always be a linear one.

If you or someone you know is living with an eating disorder, getting treatment sooner rather than later can mean the difference between life and death.


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