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Exploring Techniques for Coping with Eating Disorder-Related Triggers

Many people in the U.S. struggle with an eating disorder of some kind. That’s the conclusion reached in a study published by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), which revealed 9% of the U.S. population, roughly 29 million Americans, either have or will eventually be diagnosed with an eating disorder. And the alarming and disheartening statistics do not end there, sadly. The study further revealed that second to opioid-related overdoses, eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses in the country. Common eating disorders in the U.S. include anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), and other specified feeding and eating disorder (OSFED). That’s according to data published by the American Psychiatric Association and several other highly esteemed organizations.

Eating Disorder Triggers

Very few people struggle with an eating disorder merely because they want to be thin or maintain an ideal weight. The problem is often much deeper and often far more complicated, and if left untreated, it is a problem that can eventually claim someone’s life. In the U.S., around 10,000 people die from this disease each year, and an estimated 26% of the population diagnosed with an eating disorder attempt suicide, notes another study from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. In many cases, the factors that trigger eating disorders are other mental illnesses. In a separate study published by the Mayo Clinic, researchers found that the following are among the most common mental illnesses known to increase the risk of developing an eating disorder:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Stress

Along with mental illnesses, individuals who frequently diet, have a substance use disorder (SUD), or have a family member with an eating disorder are at an above-average risk of developing and suffering from an eating disorder.

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Eating Disorder Triggers and How They Negatively Affect Treatment Outcomes

Eating disorders or ED triggers can be complex when you want nothing more than to achieve and maintain a healthy relationship with food. Studies show around 46% of anorexia patients fully recover, 33% improve considerably, and 20% remain chronically ill after being treated for their disorder. The same studies found that around 45% of bulimia patients fully recover, 27% improve considerably, and 23% remain chronically ill after treatment. In many cases, the inability to cope with or overcome ED triggers is the reason why 20% and 23% of people with anorexia and bulimia, respectively, are never able to develop a long-term healthy relationship with food. So that everyone is on the same page, an ED trigger refers to anything that elicits a strong emotional response and encourages the resumption of old behavioral patterns.

Eating Disorder Support: The Bulimia and Anorexia Help Worth Talking About

Whether it be bulimia, anorexia, binge eating, or another type of eating disorder, there are many ways to prevent an eating disorder from completely upending your life. According to Ilene V. Fishman, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in New York lauded for providing exceptional ED support to teens and adults, some of the most effective ones include

Identifying Emotions

Emotions are responses to internal and external events, and they can be both positive and negative. When someone can identify the negative emotion attached to their eating disorder, it makes managing and coping with the emotion and the resulting eating disorder a lot easier. The same applies to triggers that would otherwise give rise to negative emotions.

Keeping Stress to a Minimum

Some people overeat when stressed, and others don’t eat enough. Both behaviors constitute an eating disorder, and they can both cause serious health problems and may even prove fatal if they go too long without being treated. According to a study published by Harvard Health Publishing, too much stress can spike cortisol and insulin levels in the body. In some people, excess cortisol and insulin ramps up fat and carbohydrate metabolism, which, in turn, creates a surge of energy in the body. In other words, they burn more calories than usual. As a result, they are more likely to engage in overeating or binge eating to quell hunger. In other people, high cortisol levels trigger an uptick in leptin, a protein hormone that acts as an appetite suppressant. Popular ways to cope with stress include the following:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Exercising
  • Meditating
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Listening to soothing music
  • Aromatherapy
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Multiple studies show that journaling promotes good mental health, including one published in JMIR Mental Health, the official journal of the Society of Digital Psychiatry. That study found that journaling can reduce mental distress and improve overall well-being among individuals diagnosed with physical or psychological problems. That said, some good entries to include in such a journal would be food-related triggers and how they make you feel when you encounter them. Many people find journaling extremely cathartic and say it helps them drum up ideas for handling the same or similar food-related triggers in the future.In summary, just about anyone can overcome an eating disorder and develop a healthy relationship with food with the proper ED support, namely a therapist well-versed in eating disorders and a supportive network of friends and family. To learn more about eating disorders and the treatments proven to help individuals overcome them, consider contacting Mind Body Wellness today, a treatment facility in Franklin, Tennessee, that specializes in treating addiction, mental illness, and co-occurring disorders.