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What Are the Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Eating Disorders?

A.E. Freeman
By A.E. Freeman
Updated May 17, 2024
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Cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders is an effective treatment option for many patients with anorexia nervosa or bulimia. The benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders include helping a patient learn to recognize triggers and learn to eat regular, healthy meals. Other benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy include teaching patients to cope with the disease and teaching them to handle symptoms in a healthy way.

There are three common types of eating disorders that can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy. Patients with anorexia avoid eating and are preoccupied with their weight. Bulimics may also be overly concerned with their weight and appearance. Instead of starving themselves, people with bulimia typically binge, or eat excessive amounts of food, and then force themselves to purge the food from their body. A third type of eating disorder is binge eating, which involves eating to excess without purging afterward.

One of the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders is that it teaches patients new habits. The therapy seeks to train eating disorder patients to recognize unhealthy, negative behaviors and to replace those behaviors with a more positive response. For example, a person with bulimia may binge and purge after an emotional encounter. Therapy will teach her to find another activity, such as writing or painting, instead of binging and purging.

Therapy for eating disorders also teaches patients how to approach food in a healthy way. Journaling is usually a part of the therapy process. A patient will note when she had an episode of binging and purging or refusing to eat and will also note what occurred alongside the episode. Keeping a journal eventually lets patients see what triggers their behavior and how they can alter it.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders can prevent a relapse in many patients. During therapy, a patient learns to eat regular meals and also learns about proper nutrition. Armed with knowledge of what makes a healthy body, a patient is less likely to fall back into a cycle of unhealthy dietary habits.

In addition to treating the disease, cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders may help some patients learn to handle and cope with other stressful situations in life. Typically, the therapy teaches problem solving that can be used in other areas of life. It can also help patients build relationships with others, such as friends and family, and can help give a patient a more positive outlook on life in general.

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