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Eating disorders are serious, but they’re also treatable and it’s possible for you to take steps towards a full recovery. At Life Works in Surrey, our world class eating disorder treatment programme has been designed to help get you back on track.

One of the main therapeutic techniques that we use to treat eating disorders is an approach known as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). In this blog, we outline how we use CBT to tackle destructive eating disorder behaviours and provide information on the expert help that is available here at Life Works.

What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that can cause people to become obsessed with their weight, appearance and body shape. This often means that someone with an eating disorder develops an unhealthy relationship with food. For example, they might:

  • Limit the amount of food they eat by starving themselves
  • Eat a large amount of food in one sitting, even when they’re not hungry
  • Engage in destructive behaviours to influence their food and weight e.g. making themselves sick after meals, exercising excessively and abusing laxatives
  • A combination of these

The four main eating disorders that people struggle with are:

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for eating disorders at Life Works

CBT is a well-known therapeutic approach that’s used all over the world to treat eating disorders. This approach is based on the idea that eating disorders develop and are made worse because of deep-rooted, unhealthy thought patterns. Therefore, the aim of CBT is to help you challenge the dysfunctional beliefs that you hold about food and body image, and change the way that you think, feel and respond to them.

For example, in the context of eating disorders and anorexia in particular, you may believe that you are fat even though there’s lots of evidence that contradicts this. This negative belief may mean that you engage in unhealthy behaviours, such as starving yourself or making yourself sick after meals, in order to try and reduce your weight. In this situation, CBT would help you to:

  • Challenge the negative belief that you are overweight e.g. by looking at all the evidence that suggests you’re not overweight
  • Question the thought processes that made you believe this in the first place e.g. does this belief stem from something that has happened in your life/is it triggered by things currently going on in your life?
  • Re-frame your thought processes so that you can change your negative behaviours around food

As well as looking at the thought processes that underpin an eating disorder, and trying to change these, CBT for eating disorders also involves exposure work. During exposure work, you’ll gradually be introduced to situations that would normally cause you to feel anxious such as shopping for food in a supermarket or cooking a meal from scratch. By facing your fears in carefully controlled steps, you’ll learn to cope with any anxiety and distress you feel around food, until this no longer affects you and these tasks become a normal part of life.

You will also receive ‘homework’ as part of your CBT sessions, which will encourage you to keep building on the techniques you’ve learned and continue reducing the anxiety you feel around food.

Treatment for eating disorders at Life Works

CBT for eating disorders has been found to be an incredibly useful and effective technique, helping people with eating disorders to:

  • Address their unhealthy thought patterns
  • Alleviate their symptoms
  • Improve their relationship with food
  • Take steps towards recovery and wellbeing

CBT forms a key part of the specialist eating disorder treatment programme that we offer at Life Works. However, we can also offer a number of additional interventions that work alongside CBT when it comes to tackling eating disorders. These include:

  • Practical dietetic techniques, including:
    • Personalised meal plans
    • Shopping groups
    • Cooking groups
    • Psycho-educational groups
  • Specific eating disorder interventions, including:
    • The Maudsley Model of Anorexia Nervosa Treatment for Adults (MANTRA)
    • Body image/acceptance groups
    • Drama and movement therapy
    • Understanding emotions groups
    • Relapse prevention groups
    • Eating disorder log book
    • Meal and post-meal support
  • Other therapeutic techniques, including:
    • Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) informed groups
    • Art informed therapy
    • Mindfulness
    • Drama therapy
    • Shiatsu

For more information on the market-leading eating disorder treatment that we can deliver at Life Works, as well as how we use CBT to treat these complex conditions, please visit our approach to eating disorder treatment page.

Get help for your eating disorder

At Life Works, we understand that it can be extremely difficult to cope with an eating disorder, and your symptoms can get worse over time. That’s why it’s so important to seek help as soon as you can to start your road to recovery. Our expert team of psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, dietitians and other eating disorder specialists have lots of experience in treating these conditions. We are dedicated to supporting you every step of the way towards addressing your unhealthy relationship with food and achieving wellbeing.

This blog was reviewed by David Waller, (MA Oxon, Postgraduate Certificate in Addiction Psychology and Counselling, Postgraduate Diploma in Addiction Psychology and Counselling with Distinction, Registered member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and member of the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals (FDAP)), Eating Disorder Programme Lead at Life Works.

Coronavirus information

While the current coronavirus restrictions and social distancing measures are in place, we are offering online support to both new and current patients. We continue to offer access to inpatient services where this is required. For more information on our online therapy service, please visit our Priory Connect page or read our latest online therapy blog. For the latest information on how Priory are responding to coronavirus, and keeping our patients and staff safe, please visit our COVID-19 preparedness blog. You can also find out about our approach to addiction treatment during COVID-19 by accessing our dedicated page.

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