Eating Disorders are serious and life threatening when left untreated. They impact not only us, but our families, friends and partners. Even though symptoms manifest as a focus on food and body, they are not about vanity. Eating Disorders develop from a blend of psychological, genetic, environmental, socio-political and interpersonal factors. Eating Disorder behaviors often help us numb out from difficult life situations, like trauma and chronic stress.
Even though it may sound strange to anyone who has never had an eating disorder, eating disorders give us a sense of agency, purpose, identity, stability and act as a “life raft” during turbulent life situations. As a therapist with lived experience, I hold deep compassion for anyone struggling with this harrowing illness. At our practice, we work to restore agency within your life, your body, your emotions and relationships so that we can eventually ‘turn down the volume’ on the eating disorder. We utilize a relational, feminist and liberatory approach. This means we believe you are the expert of what you need, we help you identify what your vision for recovery is and support you in that. We are patient, do not put “conditions” on your care, and do not believe in carceral strategies such as forced or coercive care. We utilize a blend of harm reduction strategies, parts work, somatic techniques, DBT, CBT, ketamine assisted therapy and interpersonal therapy. We also recognize that eating disorders do not have a ‘look’ and impact folks of all body types, ethnicities/races, genders, socio-economic statuses, neurodivergences, abilities, etc. We strive to be affirming, and aim to help you feel safe and seen in all of your identities.
Eating disorder symptoms: restricting, bingeing, purging and over-exercising, are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to why we engage in these behaviors.
Mainstream treatment often focuses on symptom reduction first, however, in my opinion, in order for lasting recovery to occur, we must identify and heal the root causes influencing your relationship to food and your body. These may also evolve over time, and lapses are common. There is no shame no matter where you are at in your journey, an influx in symptoms points to needs that are not being met, needs that we can address and work through in therapy.
Common ‘root causes’ for eating disorders include:
- Physical trauma
- Sexual trauma
- Anxiety disorders
- A need for control
- A way to cope with experiences of body based oppression (racism, sexism, cisheteroseixm, ableism)
- Gender dysphoria
- Chronic stress
- Chronic illness
- Difficulties with regulating emotions
- Relational difficulties
- Family of origin trauma/dysfunction
- Being over/ under stimulated
- A way to cope with Autistic Masking
This is not an extensive list, and there are often multiple factors that go into developing an eating disorder. When we experience traumatic events at the site of our body, we often develop negative core beliefs about our bodies and internalize the pain rather than externalize it.
Further, when we go through extreme stressors or traumas, our nervous system gets dysregulated. Our window of tolerance decreases and we become hypo or hyper aroused (agitated, on guard, or shut down and depressed). Eating disorder behaviors temporarily bring our nervous system back into our window of tolerance- the space inside of us that feels grounded, safe and is able to socially engage. In order to recover from an eating disorder, we have to be able to access safety in our nervous systems and in our bodies.
Because eating disorder behaviors temporarily bring us back into our window of tolerance (safe zone), our brain learns that using behaviors provides relief, and reinforces the cycle. In recovery, we must learn other strategies to bring our nervous system back into balance. Luckily, there are a variety of other ways to find safety in our bodies that do not involve eating disorder behaviors.
Somatic therapy techniques are a wonderful place to start and I have an entire podcast episode on this here:
In therapy with us, you can expect to start exploring what might be in your eating disorder ‘iceberg.’ What is fueling the destructive behaviors? What is your Eating Disorder trying to protect you from? While this might sound scary, the safety of our therapeutic relationship offers a compassionate and loving foundation to begin processing these core issues. After we get to the root, we slowly practice replacing ED behaviors with other coping skills that reflect the life we hope to live. Some of my favorite coping skills that helped me get through my recovery years ago were: discovering my true passions, journaling, spending time in nature, reading, snuggling my dogs, making art, yoga, reconnecting with loved ones and of course- specialized therapy to help me heal the root of the variety of things fueling my eating disorder. I cannot emphasize the importance of therapy with a team of eating disorder specialists enough. With the help of a therapist, dietician, support groups–and oftentimes a medical doctor, it is possible to find healing from this very serious mental health condition.
Please do not hesitate to reach out for support from my practice- we are here to help and have had great success in helping others heal from food and body struggles.