CBT as a Treatment for Eating Disorders: What the Experts Say

CBT for Eating Disorders

Make no mistake – eating disorders are difficult to overcome. Whether you suffer from bulimia, anorexia, or even pica, you might feel like there is nothing that can help you work through your pain. But there is hope. In addition to having a great support system at your back, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has shown a high degree of efficacy in treating various eating disorders. But exactly how does it work, and can you really benefit from it? It is time to take the leap and find out.

What are the Different Types of Eating Disorders?

There are six main types of eating disorders, some of which are more common than others. All of them can be difficult to treat and might eventually become fatal. Knowing which type of eating disorder you have is crucial as you look for therapy for eating disorders.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a condition that is characterized primarily by the fear of gaining weight, obsessively counting and restricting calories, and having a distorted body image. In other words, those with anorexia often equate their looks with self-worth and do not see themselves as having much self-worth because they think they are unattractive.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a condition that is characterized by a period of binge eating in which they eat exponentially more than they normally would. They feel as though they do not have control over what – or how much – they eat. After they have binged, they will limit their caloric intake, force themselves to purge via vomiting, excessive use of diuretics and/or laxatives, and exercise a lot. This tends to be a cyclical pattern of thought and behavior.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is unlike bulimia in that it does not include a purge after a period of binge eating. The person will go through a period of binge eating and, after the period is over, they will experience feelings of guilt and shame over having binge ate.

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) consists of a person intentionally limiting how many calories they consume. They will often try to compensate for the lack of nutrient with supplements but suffer from moderate to severe nutritional deficiencies as a result of caloric restriction.


Pica is a condition in which a person eats things that are not considered to be food. They compulsively eat things like dirt, toilet paper, and even piece of metal. They typically have one or a few objects that they compulsively consume.

Eating Disorders and Addiction

Rumination Disorder

Rumination is not as common of an eating disorder the others but is just as serious. In this condition, a person will re-swallow, regurgitate, or spit out their food. This typically lasts for a month or more.

Other Specified Eating Disorder (OSED)

In some cases, a person will meet some of the criteria for one of the disorders mentioned above but not all of them. They could have a mix of several conditions or only have a few criteria for one disorder. For example, a person might purge without binge eating.

Unspecified Eating Disorder

Some people do not meet enough criteria for an official diagnosis but have issues revolving around food that interfere with their daily lives. They might feel like they need to control their food and caloric intake because the world around them is so chaotic.

What Causes Eating Disorders?

Why do some people have eating disorders while others do not? Quite a few factors might cause eating disorders. The exact cause is unknown, and it seems there are multiple potential causes. These causes include:

  • Genetics
  • Changes in brain chemicals
  • Psychological issues
  • Emotional issues
  • A family history of eating disorders
  • Other mental health conditions
  • Dieting
  • Starvation
  • Being under a lot of stress

Eating disorders can lead to many complications, ranging from stunted growth to death. This is why it is imperative to seek help for yourself or your loved one.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychological therapy that aims to change thought processes from negative and unrealistic to more positive and realistic ones. Problems are viewed as being based on unhelpful thought processes, but these processes can be redirected to more helpful and realistic ones through proper therapy.

Treatment might include facing your fears instead of avoiding them, learning how to calm your mind and relax your body, and engaging in role-play to develop ways of dealing with interactions with others. The goal is to develop coping skills to use in difficult situations, recognize the distortions in your thinking and why they happen, and to implement alternative and more helpful patterns.

Teen Anxiety Disorders

What is CBT for Eating Disorders Like?

Therapy for eating disorders often includes CBT sessions with a counselor. CBT can help you develop methods for coping with your eating disorder. This structured treatment typically consists of around 20 sessions in which you and your counselor work together to build your toolkit. They might give you homework to complete or ask that you do some journaling each week.

They can help with replacing dieting with normal eating trends, reasonable meal planning, developing strategies to prevent things like purging or compulsive eating, and challenging the dietary rules you have adopted. If there are foods you fear, they might work on introducing those to you.

CBT for Eating Disorders and Addiction

CBT for eating disorders and addictions has been found to be helpful and effective for many people. Adults and adolescents alike have benefited from this type of treatment. It can help you change your thinking and behaviors, but beware, it takes time, work, and dedication. When you are ready to face your food fears and issues, Mission Harbor is here to provide you with the support and tools you need to succeed.

The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.

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