How DBT skills can help manage eating disorder behaviors

By Jeanette Lorandini

One advantage of dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is that it is based on skill acquisition and development. This encompasses four distinct types of skills: emotion regulation, distress tolerance, mindfulness, and interpersonal effectiveness. These are useful for treating many types of conditions and mental health problems.

They are particularly helpful for managing behaviors related to eating disorders. That’s because someone with an eating disorder can feel so out of control and powerless to counter the eating disorder on their own. Even if they recognize that what they are doing is harmful, it’s hard to stop.

Here’s how DBT skills can break this cycle and help you better manage an eating disorder.

Start with Mindfulness

Mindfulness is more than simply meditating or being more aware of your breathing. Rather, it’s about getting back in touch with both your mind and your body. Many who struggle with eating disorders have a distorted and unhealthy view of their own bodies. They may feel detached from themselves and not understand how the mind and body are connected to one another.

Mindfulness also includes becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings connected to those thoughts. For example:

  • Thoughts around your body and body image.
  • Beliefs about food.
  • Why you experience distress.

An important aspect of mindfulness is “Radical Acceptance”. This is where you unconditionally accept yourself or a situation without judgment.

manage eating disorder behaviorsInterpersonal Effectiveness and DBT

Another skill you learn in DBT is interpersonal effectiveness. Interpersonal effectiveness involves learning new communication skills. These skills empower you to better express what you are feeling and experiencing to someone else.

You can more accurately describe what is happening to you. You’ll also get better at communicating your desires and wishes in a manner that is strengths-based. That way you can work to develop an effective solution to the problem.

Using Distress Tolerance

Distress tolerance is your ability to handle or manage stressful situations as they arise. You can cope with the distress rather than give in to it. Some examples of distress tolerance include:

  • Radical Acceptance! You can accept that this is the situation right now and be okay with it.
  • Distracting yourself by focusing your attention away from what is causing the stress.
  • Visualizing a calm and soothing place or scenario than the one you are in. This helps to calm yourself so you are more capable of then dealing with the here-and-now.
  • Weighing the pros and cons of the situation and your ability to handle it effectively.

Note that it takes practice to both learn and use these skills effectively. That’s why it’s helpful to practice distress tolerance skills when you feel calm, centered, and capable of doing so.

Practicing Emotion Regulation

An important part of DBT skill development is emotion regulation. That’s because, when you are struggling with an eating disorder, you might not understand the precise emotions behind the behavior. You know you might feel bad, or experience stress, but nothing further. You practice emotional regulation by:

  • Identifying the emotions you are experiencing.
  • Developing emotional vulnerability by planning an activity each day that you actually enjoy doing. These allow you to relax, let your guard down, and be more present.
  • Decrease or reduce emotional suffering by either choosing to let go of hurtful feelings or deciding to do the opposite of what your negative thinking tells you to do in the moment.

As you can see, these skills all have a useful role in treating the effects of eating disorders. Mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and emotion regulation empower you to take back control over your life from the eating disorder.

Rather than it be in control, now you can take charge again. However, to get the most out of DBT, you need help. Reach out today to learn more about how DBT will help with your eating disorder.

Click here for more information on Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

social anxiety disorder treatment through dbt4 Practical Steps to Deal with Social Anxiety During the Holidays
treat anxiety disorder treatment for teenDifficulty of Trying to Reason with Panic: How to Handle Teens with Anxiety