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How Applied Behavior Analysis Can Help You Rapidly Recover from an Eating Disorder

As a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)...

my main focus is to increase socially appropriate, healthy behaviors, and decrease unhealthy, dangerous behaviors.

Goals for Working with ABA

With regard to eating disorders, I will help you to increase healthy behaviors in your life such as: following your meal plan, exercising an appropriate amount, eating an appropriate amount of calories, and regularly using healthy coping skills instead of your eating disorder symptoms. At the same time, I will also help you decrease unhealthy behaviors such as: yo-yo dieting, purging, over exercising, and emotional eating.

Each time you or your loved one uses an eating disorder behavior such as bulimia, it appears to “work.” Maybe it helps you feel calm or less stressed. Maybe it even helps you feel more in control. Each time you or your loved one purges and it seems to “work,” the behavior is rewarded, making you more likely to do it again. The problem, of course, is that behaviors such as purging only “work” temporarily. I will help you determine the true reason you are using these unhealthy and often dangerous behaviors. Then I will compassionately guide you to make necessary changes in order to substitute healthy, life affirming behaviors that WORK.

How to Increase Healthy Behavior and Decrease Unhealthy Behavior

So how do I help someone do that?
Step 1: Helping you understand that you developed an eating disorder for a reason. Everyone has their breaking point in life. When a person is under a great deal of stress, they will find a way to cope. If you don’t have a solid repertoire of coping skills (that truly help!), you can resort to dangerous behaviors such as dieting, purging or compulsive exercise. It’s the body’s way of dealing with immense stress. Most important, please understand it is not your fault that you developed an eating disorder and you have nothing to be ashamed about.
Step 2: Helping you analyze your behavior(s) and recognize patterns. Does your eating disorder get worse after you are involved in a difficult/stressful social encounter such as an argument? Do you binge, purge, diet or feel worse about your body when you receive bad news? In many cases, you may use your eating disorder behavior(s) to escape stress or anxiety. In the Applied Behavior Analysis world, this means the eating disorder behaviors are being rewarded over and over again. In other words, it makes you immediately feel better, relaxed, relieved.
Step 3: Helping you utilize other ways to make yourself feel better so you don’t have to binge, purge, starve or over exercise. I will also help you examine your life and make any necessary changes that will decrease your stress and your need to use your eating disorder in the first place. For example, if you are a “people pleaser”- constantly overworked and taking on too many responsibilities - I will, in a firm but caring way, encourage you to reduce your responsibilities and learn that it’s ok to say “no.” Reducing your stress in ways like this will help your eating disorder disappear for good.

Eating disorders are very complex and everyone has stressful times in life. We must have a good set of coping skills that help us get through stressful times without hurting our bodies. In order to have the greatest chance at recovery, it’s important to work with a solid team of professionals. That’s why I’m thrilled to have joined The Body Image Counseling Center’s caring team of recovery professionals. Working with a Behavior Analyst can be a key component in recovery. Teaching healthy, appropriate replacement behaviors is one of the most important parts of my job as a Behavior Analyst! If you’d like to schedule an appointment to discuss how I can help you personally, please fill out a confidential appointment request form through this link, and I’ll be in touch right away.
By Caitlin Young, BCBA




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