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Body Image Therapy for Eating Disorders

It light of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week I wanted to tell you about the therapies used in recovery programs. I often associate eating disorders with control issues, but according to professionals at the Menninger Clinic in Houston folks with eating disorders spend nearly every waking moment - up to 80 to 90 percent of their day - obsessing about their appearance. Replacing this negative habit with a positive body image is essential to recovering from an eating disorder.


According to Dr. Fassihi who helped create the program:

It's very difficult to do because we live in an anorexic culture where the thin ideal is all we see in the media and people basically have to challenge that definition of beauty in order to recover. In research, we've found that body image issues are the last thing to change when we are treating people with eating disorders.

A key part of the program is taking a body image history, where the patient begins to construct how her destructive body image came to be. Many patients find that their's developed at quite an early age, with thin messages coming from society and the media and chubby messages coming from family and peers.

Aside from constructing a personal history, patients learn the true size of their body in comparison to their mental images. I found the string exercise especially interesting. Patients are asked to measure out how much string it would take to encircle a particular body part (often the parts the patients find "offensive") like a thigh or the waist. Often the string is at least 3 times the actual circumference of the body part. In seeing the vast differences between the two the patients begin to recognize the internal idea versus the external reality.

There is more to the program, so read more

Group therapy plays a key role in the recovery process as well. Patients participate in "body image parties" where they describe their bodies and the group helps turn negative descriptions into positive ones.

“Patients gain some important insights through the body image groups while at Menninger,” Dr. Fassihi says. “They learn about how their body image issues impact their lives, and most seem to re-evaluate the importance they have been placing on appearance.”

To learn more about the Menniger Clinic visit their website. To find a recovery program in your area, check out the Finder page at Something Fishy. Help is out there, you just need to take the first step.

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