And here we come to the Cognitive Behavioral Model, first coined by Aaron Beck in the 1960's. This model has since been used to explain depression, social phobia, addiction, and many more mental illnesses. Plus, you guessed it, this model has also been helpful for eating disorders. While there is no one right answer for treating eating disorders, research has shown Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to be effective and has been recommended as a best practice guideline in Australia and New Zealand.
So then we come to this question - how can we use this research backed CBT to our advantage in battling an eating disorder? What does this model look like for someone with an eating disorder? Example time. (Disclaimer: one persons experience is not all - this is based on my experience but it could look completely different for someone else)
Situation:I don't receive text messages back from friends I reached out to
Thoughts/Beliefs: they are probably trying to avoid me because I'm annoying or they don't like me
Emotions: sad, lonely, abandoned
Behaviors: binge mindlessly while also mindlessly getting lost in Netflix so I don't have to feel my feelings
Not a great cycle to go through - clearly. Take a few moments and identify your own cycles with this model in mind…. Now - there are only a couple things in here we actually have control over.
Situation: nope - shit happens and most of the time its out of our control
Thoughts/Beliefs: Yes, with some hard work! We can try to distract our automatic thoughts or combat them with facts of the situation. One of the best ways I've found to combat thoughts is to check in with my supports - for instance with the situation above my supports remind me of all the other things that may have lead to them not responding, "it's not you, sometimes shit happens" (ah yes, there is that uncontrollable stuff again)
Emotions: No changing here - what you feel is what you feel and that is 100% ok! Honor it, don’t run from it!
Behaviors: Yes! One of the things we have most control over in this model - something that we can absolutely work to change. Are you able to keep yourself busy with something else like painting or a puzzle, maybe shut doors to bathrooms or put away things that might be tempting for you to cope with in the moment.
This model can be like a road map to change. Hopefully you've taken the time to identify some of the cycles you go through, now take a look at those thoughts/beliefs and behaviors - the things you have the ability to change. Start brainstorming how you can interrupt these two aspects of the model, bring your thoughts to your team or supports! I know in the moment this cycle seems helpless - but there is hope to break free! The model does well explaining dangerous cycles, but it can do even better explaining positive ones. Remember what parts you have the power to change and always move toward recovery!
Written by: Rae Thomas
Emily Estes lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her Goldendoodle pup, Miss Adley Mae. Recovery from her own struggle with an eating disorder, anxiety, and depression has led Emily to create community and resources to empower others on the journey. Emily owns Sage Nutrition, LLC where she serves as a Registered Dietitian. Her work revolves around her motto that "food is meant to nourish our bodies, not nurture us."