Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Eating Disorders: How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Treat Eating Disorders?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Eating Disorders: How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Treat Eating Disorders?
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About Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a form of psychotherapy that places importance on the role of thinking, in terms of how we feel and what we do. This method is designed to help the patient uncover and alter distorted thoughts and perceptions, which may be causing prolonged psychological distress.

How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Eating Disorders Work?

CBT helps the patient understand the relationship between thoughts, emotions and actions. Only then can they begin to replace the negative thoughts and emotions behind their abnormal food and eating behaviors, with more positive thoughts and emotions. This replacement will lead them back towards a healthier lifestyle. During CBT, the patient is often asked to track their thoughts and feelings, as well as their eating habits and behaviors for several weeks. This is often done using a journal or food diary.

Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Eating Disorders

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anorexia nervosa:

  • CBT educates the patient about their illness, its symptoms and how they can predict when the symptoms are most likely to recur.
  • Patients are also required to keep a diary of their eating episodes. They record times when they binge eat, purge, and also note the events that may have triggered these episodes.
  • CBT teaches patients to eat more regularly, with meals or snacks spaced no more than 3 or 4 hours apart.
  • Using CBT, the patient is than taught to change the way they think about their symptoms. This will empower the patient and reduce the power that their symptoms have over them.
  • CBT also helps by changing self-defeating thought patterns into patterns that are more constructive and helpful. This improves mood and the patient’s sense of mastery over his or her life. This also aids the patient in avoiding future episodes.
  • During CBT patients are taught ways to handle daily problems more effectively.

Cognitive-behavioral Therapy for Bulimia

Stage One - behavioral techniques are implemented to replace binge eating with more stable eating patterns.

  • Patients are required to write down what they eat.
  • Patients are educated about topics surrounding weight and eating - such as the physical consequences of binging and purging, the ineffectiveness of purging as means of weight control, and the adverse effects of dieting.
  • Patients will be given a regular eating schedule, and taught to use alternative methods of controlling their urges to binge. They also learn about the harm that can be caused by vomiting, laxatives and diuretics

Stage Two – Reinforcement of Steps in Stage One

  • Focus on reducing the patient’s strong tendency to diet, continue to review food journal.
  • Teach patients problem solving skills.
  • Address patient’s concerns about shape and weight, also addresses other cognitive distortions.

Stage Three – Maintains progress and teach patients skills to prevent relapse of the binge/purge cycle once treatment is terminated.

Finally, using cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders works well because the cognitive view recognizes that eating disorders are more than just the behavior of starving or binging/purging. CBT helps patients establish healthy eating habits and eliminates dieting by examining his/her thoughts, beliefs and values, which are believed to contribute to the cause and maintenance of the eating disorder problem.


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