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What I learnt in CBT for an eating problem

3 min read
20 July 2022

Luca, 23, shares some of the lessons and pieces of advice they learnt when they had cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for an eating disorder.

I developed an eating problem in response to one of the most tumultuous and scary times in my life. I’d always suffered from low self-esteem, but my mum had been diagnosed with cancer, and I felt alone and extremely anxious.

Reaching out and asking for help was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but with support from BEAT and my family I was diagnosed with an eating disorder and referred for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). I learnt a lot and wanted to share these things in the hope that it might help someone else who’s struggling like I was.

There are no ‘bad’ foods, they just give you different nutrients.

  • Say out loud what you say to yourself

    This really helped me to understand how mean we can be to ourselves. When I started saying out loud the comments I would say to myself, berating myself for what I ate or how I looked, I realised I would never say any of that to another person and that being kinder to myself was the first step on a long journey ahead.

  • Eating problems thrive when they isolate you, so reach out

    It’s not easy but it’s so important to talk to someone and reconnect with those around you. The eating disorder voice gets quieter the more you speak, so confide in people you trust or reach out to BEAT, Shout, or YoungMinds if you’re feeling alone.

  • Focus on more than physical appearance

    We’re all so much more than what we look like. Make a list of all the positive attributes and skills you have. This can be a quality like being compassionate or thoughtful, or maybe you’re really good at drawing or writing poetry. Whatever it is, write it down and recognise what you’re good at beyond how you look.

  • Challenge your thoughts with science

    This one really helped me, especially through my CBT journey. Once I had a better understanding of nutrition, I realised I could challenge the eating disorder voice that had controlled me for so long. It also made me realise there are no ‘bad’ foods, they just give you different nutrients.

  • Have a list of ways to distract yourself

    Unlearning behaviours you’ve relied on for a long time can be extremely tough, so it’s important to write down things you enjoy to distract yourself when you’re feeling low. For me this would be going for a leisurely walk and picking out five things that brought me joy, reading my favourite book, and spending some time with my dog. By identifying positive coping mechanisms and having them ready, it reduces the likelihood of falling back into negative behaviours and increases your resilience.

  • Constantly remind yourself of the benefits of recovery

    For me this meant sticking post-it notes on my wall with all the ways my life had improved since starting CBT, including reconnecting with my family and friends, being less tired and more able to focus on things I enjoy, and feeling more able to deal with stressors in my life.

Admitting that I needed help is one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do, but being able to live my life without the hold of my eating problems far outweighs the anxiety and fear I felt starting CBT. I’m far healthier, happier, and I’m living my life the way I want to. Reaching out and starting therapy was one of the best decisions I ever made and, given the choice, I would always choose it again.

Reaching out and starting therapy was one of the best decisions I ever made and, given the choice, I would always choose it again.

More information and advice

We have tips and advice to help you find the support you need. Take a look at our guides.

Where to get help

However you're feeling, there are people who can help you if you are struggling. Here are some services that can support you.

Thanks for sharing your story Luca, 23

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