Eating disorders are unfortunately common. Caused by a number of factors – including a society that puts pressure on weight loss, trauma, and even genetics – it is common to develop an unhealthy relationship with both food and body weight.
However, one component of this relationship that is often misunderstood is the idea that it is based on some type of real, tangible problem. Sometimes, eating disorders occur because the person’s reality is different from the reality of others, in a way that makes it more complex to treat and to understand. That is especially true of anorexia.
How We View Our Bodies
Anorexia is often viewed solely as an “intense desire to be thin.” In some ways, that is true. Those that struggle with anorexia do have a desire to be thin, and a perception that being thin is an admirable goal. This extreme caloric restriction is one of the ways that they feel they can achieve that.
But what can be challenging for family members to understand is how a person can continue to try to aggressively lose weight after they are already thin. That is because, although they are watching their loved one get thinner and thinner to the point of visible malnutrition, the person with anorexia doesn’t see the same body they do.
When a person with anorexia looks in the mirror, the body they see staring back at them is larger than the one that we see with our eyes. Their body has a different reality than it does to us. That is why it is so challenging for those with anorexia to stop, or to believe that they have lost enough weight and can move towards management. No matter how thin they are, the scale and the mirror tells them that they’re bigger, and that causes extreme distress that leads to more caloric restriction.
Why Anorexia Therapists Are Necessary
Because those with anorexia and their families are living in different realities, it is often very difficult for the families to try to convince their loved one that their low body weight is a problem. They typically cannot see it, and do not know that their reality is distorted or different from yours.
Therapy for anorexia requires a multifaceted approach, combining psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy with treatments, including those that involve the family or address related issues like anxiety and depression. Sometimes, different approaches may be needed depending on the “reality” of the person with anorexia, how it developed, how long they’ve struggled with, and more.
But anorexia can be treated. There are ways to help people see their body in a healthier way, and identify better coping habits and eating habits to improve their mental and physical health. For anorexia therapy in Brooklyn and NYC, call Flourish Psychology.