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National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Treatment Strategies and Warning Signs

From the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists


Too often, the California dream has a dark side.

Sadly, those seeking the perfect body often find themselves struggling with an eating disorder instead. In recognition of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, February 26-March 4, the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists offers treatment approaches, warning signs and strategies for identifying, and successfully treating eating disorders.

Patricia Ravitz, LMFT, President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and eating disorder specialist, warns, "Nationally, only about 1 in 10 people with eating disorders receive professional treatment. As many as 20% of people who do not receive treatment will suffer serious health consequences, including death. This is why it is critical for people with eating disorders to seek help from a marriage and family therapist who specializes in treating eating disorders for help."

Ravitz offered key strategies therapists will employ:

- Dieting Must Not be a Part of the Treatment

With a 98% recidivism rate, diets don't work. Nearly all dieters regain all of the weight lost on the diets and end up at an even higher weight than when they began. Clients with a history of binge eating have usually been on and off diets for most of their lives, and many have realized there are underlying emotional issues that contribute to their compulsive eating and fluctuating weight.

- Eat "Intentionally"

Using external controls and structures (diets) to determine what to eat and how much to eat, often triggers binging and restricting. Learning to trust your body cues of hunger and satiety is one important aspect of treatment, and the antithesis of what our dieting culture reinforces. Intentionally choose foods that help you achieve energy, clarity and stable mood. Eat for health, balance and pleasure.

- Make Eating Awareness a part of the solution. Say, no to the idea of "Forbidden Foods"

Many people with eating disorders report that once a food is no longer forbidden, the craving for that food is greatly diminished. If you can say yes to a food, you are free to also say no. Learning to make these decisions with intention is the cornerstone of lasting treatment. In treatment, each patient explores their unique relationship to food and learns to develop trust in their own internal compass. Trusting one's feelings about food choices is a foundation for learning to set better boundaries in relationships and in life.

- Identify What's Under the Surface

The body is where hunger happens, but people with eating disorders have learned to muffle their feelings with food, and to distract themselves from memories of trauma, pain, and life's challenges, by obsessing about food and body size.

Ravitz said that there are several warning signs that an individual may have an eating disorder:

- Dramatic or sudden weight loss or gain

- Unusual rules for eating, (e.g. eating in secret, restricting whole families of food, or rigid diets)

- Consistent excuses to avoid mealtimes or situations involving food

- Excessive, rigid exercise regimen--despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury, or resistance to any exercise at all

- Withdrawal from friends and activities

"If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, consult a marriage and family therapist specializing in eating disorders to determine if you have an eating disorder. Eating disorders are treatable, and no one should suffer alone. To find a therapist, visit," Ravitz said.


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