Subtle Signs Your Loved One May Have an Eating Disorder and How DBT Can Help
By Jeanette Lorandini
We all know that eating disorders are a thing. But most of us act as if it is something that happens to other people and other families. You hear stories, whispers about terrible struggles. You know the numbers are growing.
Close to 30 million Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. Even with all this swirling around us, you may never take the time to learn more — until it is right in your face. Then again, eating disorders are not always obvious. The signs can be subtle.
If you suspect that someone in your life is struggling, it is essential to educate yourself.
Eating Disorders: The Basics
An eating disorder is both a mental and physical condition. It can involve extreme restriction of intake and/or overeating. The three most common forms of eating disorder are:
Anorexia nervosa: The hallmark is the severe restriction of one’s food intake.
Bulimia nervosa: This presents as binge eating. Conversely, someone with bulimia with then compensate for their binging through behaviors like vomiting or obsessive exercise.
Binge-eating disorder: A person with this variation may lose control over their own eating choices. This often manifests in the consumption of huge quantities of food.
Subtle Signs Your Loved One May Have an Eating Disorder
When Eating, Your Loved One May:
Be very particular about which utensils they use (this could involve using children-sized utensils or plates)
Specific serving sizes, e.g. counting how many blueberries they add to their cereal
Indulge in some unusual combinations of food
When Not Eating, Your Loved One May:
Spend a lot of time researching food ingredients and scrutinizing food labels when shopping
Read cookbooks, watch recipe videos, and meticulously just those recipes to their liking
Show extreme curiosity about what others are eating or have eaten in the past
Hoard food-related items, e.g. takeout packets of ketchup
Your Loved One May Create Unusual Food “Rules” Like:
Planning meals based on the expiration date of certain foods
Wearing certain clothes or accessories when eating
Purposely over-cooking or under-cooking their food
You can see that there’s much more to eating disorders than how they’re shown in pop culture. If someone close to you displays some variation of the above, they may need some help. One approach that has shown great results is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
How DBT Can Help
DBT is very effective at helping people balance emotions in a helpful way. Part of this process involves addressing your current behaviors in times of stress. An eating disorder can emerge when a person attempts to regulate emotions through eating choices. Obviously, DBT for eating disorders can be a good match.
When working with a DBT therapist, someone with an eating disorder is guided through these four skills:
Being more present in the moment is a crucial skill when dealing with disorder eating. This kind of self-awareness makes one’s behaviors more clear.
Distress can trigger an eating disorder as a faulty coping choice. DBT teaches you how to deal with distressing feelings in healthier ways.
It is not unusual for someone to slip into eating problems as a method of reclaiming control. With the help of a skilled DBT therapist, they can develop productive methods to:
Build healthy relationships
We come back to this important skill. Thanks to DBT, your loved one with an eating disorder can learn new approaches to regulating their emotions.
DBT is a powerful tool for recovery. Let’s set up a free consultation. I’d love to talk more with you and your loved one about this approach.