Dealing with an Eating Disorder

Dealing with an Eating Disorder

Sarah Buchman, Staff

Thirty million people in the US are affected by an eating disorder. Ninety-five percent of people affected are between the ages of 12-25. Fifty percent of teenage girls and thirty-three percent of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors. 

Even more significantly, 70 percent of people who have an eating disorder don’t seek treatment, usually, because they don’t know how to get treatment and are embarrassed.  

There are so many programs, centers, counseling, and groups that can help people who may be struggling with an eating disorder such as Anorexia NervosaBulimia Nervosa, or Bing Eating Disorder. Every person is different, and there are so many types of disorders but these just a few common disorders. 

Eating disorders are more common in high schoolers than you would think. But still teens are ashamed and scared to talk to people about it. Kate Clemmer, Community Education & Outreach Coordinator at the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, works with teenagers dealing with eating disorders every day.  

The Center for Eating Disorders provides treatment for adults, adolescents, and children with complex eating disorders. The center uses extensive experience and research into the biological, psychological, and social factors of eating disorders. 

“We know that no one chooses to have an eating disorder and that every individual who comes to treatment deserves respect and support,” she explained. 

The center is designed to make patients comfortable, cared for, and as safe as possible while they work towards freedom from their eating disorder.  

“There are many reasons it can be hard to ask for help,” she commented. 

Ms. Clemmer believes one reason is because the person isn’t aware of damage the unhealthy behaviors the disorder is causing. Others might see the damage but feel embarrassed, which would keep them from seeking help. 

“Others may be very aware of the pain its causing them but feel shame or encounter stigma associated with eating disorders,” Ms. Clemmer explained.  

Some students experience an eating disorder as a coping method, something to help with stress, anxiety, and depression. They may not know other ways to handle feelings like this.  

“It can be scary to let go of something you think is helping you feel better,” she stated. 

Family support is a big help when it comes to a successful recovery from an eating disorder. The patient and family must work together to overcome the issue. 

Family therapy is the primary therapeutic modality for teens because it emphasizes a strong parental alliance, resolution of family problems, and provides support for the adolescent’s independence.  

“Through therapy, families come to discover how changes in the way they communicate, manage conflict, or tolerate negative emotions can aid in their loved one’s recovery,” Ms. Clemmer explained. 

Research shows that it isn’t always the parents to blame for the individual’s disorder. Fifty to eighty percent of a person’s risks for developing an eating disorder is from genes.  

The center offers many inpatient services where patients can share support and personal experiences. Eating disorders lead to loneliness, confusion, and frustration, so it’s important for patients to open up and talk about feelings that build up. 

“It’s often a relief for patients to see that they are not alone…these disorders tend to thrive on isolation and silence,” Ms. Clemmer commented. 

Sheppard Pratt also offers weekly community support groups to help bring people together who might be struggling with the same feelings. It’s a safe and supportive space to focus on recovery and get insight from other’s experiences.  

A big part of recovery is realizing what thoughts and fears are causing the disorder. When patients eat enough and are well nourished, their brain is functioning at its best, so it is more likely to utilize what its learning and proceed to solve those issues.  

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) helps patients address distorted thoughts about food and body image. When consistent negative thoughts occur, people start to believe they are true.  

“This can lead to feeling such as sadness, anger, shame, hopelessness, and anxiety which can perpetuate a depressed mood and may trigger an eating disorder,” Ms. Clemmer explained.  

Patients must identify these thoughts to overcome them, and then you can replace them with more accurate/positive thoughts. Cognitive distortion can appear in many ways;  

  • All-or-Nothing Thinking (extreme thoughts with no middle ground) 
  • Discounting (downplaying positive elements) 
  • Filtering (focusing only on the negative, ignoring the positive)   
  • Overgeneralizing (assumption that one small negative thing is always happening) 
  • Fortune Telling (predicting how something will turn out as if it’s a fact) 
  • Mind Reading (assuming what others are thinking) 

If someone you know tells you the are struggling with an eating disorder, try to help them get help. The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt offers free and confidential phone assessments (410-943-2121) and a wide range of treatment options.  

“It’s important to express your concern and offer support in a non-judgmental way. Assure them that you are there for them and that there is hope for recovery,” Ms. Clemmer suggested.  

Learn how to have supporting conversations with that friend or loved one. ‘Let’s Check In’ page on Sheppard Pratt’s website gives help on how to have these difficult conversations;    

“It’s important to remember that recovery from an eating disorder is possible with professional help and support,” Ms. Clemmer said.