Many mental health experts say society has adopted the use of language that unintentionally encourages eating disorders. We have also failed to understand their complexity. This National Eating Disorder Week, Lisa Ciccarelli, MFT, director of the partial hospitalization program and intensive outpatient program at Loma Linda University Behavioral Health, shares how eating disorders are often accompanied by other mental illnesses and provides tips to avoid encouraging them.
Disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive overeating often co-exist with the presence of other mental health issues. Ciccarelli and her team at the Behavioral Medicine Center (BMC) anticipate the treatment of depression, anxiety, OCD, substance use, and/or borderline personality disorders comorbidly.
“It is more than treating eating disorder behaviors,” Ciccarelli said. “We have other issues to work through in unison.”
Ciccarelli works closely with the patient’s therapist and dietician to ensure treatments are practical and effective.
Many eating disorder patients try to cope with trauma by controlling food, whether overeating, undereating, or purging, these act as tangible means to feel in control of what feels out of control. When also struggling with substance use disorders, studies show excess mortality in patients with eating disorders. Eating-disorder patients who abused alcohol, cannabis, hard drugs, or various combinations had a much higher risk of dying from any cause.
Both eating and substance use disorders can be difficult to detect in a loved one and are often kept a secret by the individual struggling. Group therapy at the BMC is extremely effective, Ciccarelli says, and she enjoys seeing the bonds created in this form of therapy that support recovery.
“It’s helpful because those who have been in recovery longer compassionately support and challenge those who are just beginning their journey,” Ciccarelli said. “They relate to and trust one another and sometimes are the only people they are comfortable talking to about their disorders.”
Some warning signs of a substance use disorder:
- Belief that using or drinking is needed to have fun
- Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from use of drugs or alcohol
- Using or drinking larger amounts or over longer periods of time than planned
- Giving up activities you used to enjoy
- Work/school performance begins to suffer
- Feelings of depression, hopelessness, or suicidal
Some warning signs of an eating disorder include:
- Preoccupation with weight, food, dieting, body image
- Evidence of purging behaviors
- The feeling of isolation, depression, anxiety, or irritability
- Compulsive or excessive exercising
Some unintentional ways to encourage the eating disorder mindset:
- Complimenting someone when they lose weight or diet
- Talking negatively about our bodies
- Discussing measurements, weight, or clothing sizes
- Thinking of foods as “good” or “bad”
- Making fun of another person’s eating habits or food choices
- Expecting perfection
- Encouraging more exercise than is healthy
- Allowing the media to dictate what body type is “in”