Eating disorders are psychological illnesses that affect approximately 3% of Canadians. A 2016 Statistics Canada study revealed that approximately 1 million Canadians have been diagnosed with this illness.
What are Eating Disorders?
It is a common misconception that eating disorders can be seen, only impact individuals in smaller bodies and are most commonly found in females. Eating disorders do not discriminate based on size, age, gender, race or socioeconomic status. If food is a source of distress, control or coping and takes up a significant amount of space in your life, you may be affected.
The Treatment Team
Psychologists are a crucial component of the treatment of eating disorders. Research shows that most individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder also have co-occurring psychological diagnoses. The therapist will use evidence-based practices, which are currently Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Family Based Treatment (FBT) or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) (in cases of Bulimia or Binge Eating Disorder) in assisting individuals in the change process. Therapists conceptualize the role that the eating disorder plays in the clients life in addition to helping clients explore and understand maintaining factors for their illness, how the illness interferes with the type of life they want to live and assisting them in changing ineffective coping patterns and behaviors.
Dietitians are an extremely important part of the treatment team for eating disorders. Dietitians who specialize in this field have often been described as offering food psychology as they explore how psychological beliefs impact an individual’s relationship with food.
If your physical health is impacted by your eating disorder, it is imperative that the dietitian work with you to achieve a state where your body can function appropriately. This is not exclusive to individuals who present as being below their natural body weight. Contrary to popular belief, people in large bodies can be malnourished and be physically unstable.
The dietitian will provide scientific evidence and psychoeducation to empower clients to question and challenge their behaviors as they relate to food. The dietitians may also engage in food exposures with you in addition to mindful eating exercises.
Unlike popular belief, a dietitian will not prescribe a specific diet or judge your food intake. The role of the dietitian is to provide scientific evidence and knowledge to assist you in determining how foods make you feel, how they fit into your life and what is best for YOUR body. Of course, the dietitian is trained to consider medical diagnoses or conditions that may impact which foods you can and cannot eat. However, this doesn’t mean that you cannot have a flexible and intuitive relationship with food.
Because eating disorders can have extreme health consequences such as tachycardia, bradycadia, osteopenia, osteoporosis, electrolyte abnormalities and syncope, it is crucial that clients be followed by a medical professional. The family doctor will monitor an individual’s physical health and provide medical recommendations based on findings. Please note that we request that all clients diagnosed with an eating disorder be followed by a medical professional.
Psychiatrists are medical practitioners who specialize in the treatment of mental illnesses. Medication can sometimes be necessary and effective in relieving symptoms of co-existing conditions. While there are no medications at this time that have been found to treat the specific symptoms of eating disorders, many medications have shown effectiveness in decreasing other underlying factors that maintain the illness.
Please note that one doesn’t have to be diagnosed with an eating disorder to have disordered eating patterns. Diet culture often encourages restrictive behaviors, leading to overeating and cycling weight trends. If you feel that your self-worth is tied to your body shape, weight and food choices, you may have a disordered relationship with food.