Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

What Is CBT?

How CBT can be useful in eating disorder recovery.

Source: iStock

What Is CBT?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective combination of talk therapy and behavioral therapy. CBT is a type of psychotherapy in which patients reframe negative thinking patterns into positive thoughts. Transforming one’s thoughts will ultimately result in positive actions and behaviors in difficult moments.

CBT can be useful to individuals suffering from eating disorders, depression, and anxiety.[1] During CBT, patients have the opportunity to work with a therapist to find the source of negative thinking and transform those thoughts into a positive, growth mindset. The ultimate goal of CBT is to replace negative thoughts and actions with productive behaviors that make the individual feel equipped to overcome any difficult moment.

Individuals will recognize how their thinking influences their emotions and will establish personalized coping mechanisms. Working with a therapist to find effective and personalized coping mechanisms will ultimately help individuals identify and manage thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in real-world situations.

Components of CBT Used in Eating Disorder Recovery

The following are the 4 steps of CBT used in eating disorder recovery:[2]

Identifying the sources of negativity.

Individuals work with a therapist to identify patterns of negative thinking and beliefs. During this component, the therapist and individual evaluate all possible sources of destructive eating patterns and negative thoughts about body-image.

Analyzing the individual’s environmental and social factors that elicit destructive eating patterns is the first step in understanding the source of negative thinking. Together, patients and therapists will examine the person’s daily routine and identify environmental factors, people, or stressors in their lives that prompt poor eating choices and self-doubt.

Becoming mindful of the emotions and beliefs associated with the sources of negativity.

After identifying the sources of destructive eating patterns, the next step of CBT is to identify the emotions and beliefs associated with the social and environmental factors that cause unhealthy behaviors.

When patients understand the emotions and beliefs connected to the source of destruction, they are better able to reframe their negative thoughts by practicing positive self-talk. Individuals assess how they feel in real-world situations that trigger unwanted thoughts and emotions and create ways to respond in a productive way. This emotional assessment is a vital step in learning how to substitute poor eating behaviors with habits that cultivate self-compassion.

Recognizing and reframing negative thinking patterns.

Therapists will encourage individuals to practice reframing negative thinking patterns into positive thoughts. This can only occur after individuals fully understand the sources of destructive eating patterns and the emotions and beliefs associated with the environmental and social factors that cause their eating disorder.

Individuals will verbally practice positive self-talk and will be encouraged to keep a journal in-between therapy sessions. Patients will write down productive ways to respond in the difficult moments and situations that will arise in the real world. Writing down positive self-talk responses in the context of all potential scenarios is an effective method in helping the individual change negative thinking patterns in a real-life moment.

Practicing positive thinking and personalized coping mechanisms in real-world situations.

Therapists will guide sessions by helping the individual set personalized goals and solutions to manage the stress and anxiety associated with harmful environmental and social triggers. Individuals will practice verbally responding in stressful situations by reframing their thoughts to gain control of their emotions and behaviors. Patients will practice using their personalized coping mechanisms in real-world situations. Coping mechanisms can include self-soothing techniques, meditation, or engaging in other activities that the individual enjoys.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Essential Reads

In order to fully experience the benefits of CBT, it is absolutely essential that patients practice reframing their thoughts through positive self-talk and writing in journals in-between therapy sessions. They must continuously practice being mindful of emotions and thoughts by transforming them into productive behaviors.

How CBT is Helpful in Overcoming Eating Disorders

CBT can be a useful tool to help patients overcome their eating disorder. It allows individuals to understand their eating disorder by examining the sources of their negative thoughts. Patients will actively practice how to respond in all situations that elicit destructive eating patterns.

Research has shown that CBT can help individuals who have gained weight during recovering from anorexia avoid a relapse and maintain a healthy weight. Additionally, CBT also helps patients struggling with bulimia and binge-eating disorder by its effectiveness in understanding the present moment and how to respond in a more productive way.[3] CBT is a successful technique to ensure emotions, behaviors, and interpersonal relationships are effectively managed in a meaningful way to help people recover from their eating disorder.

The goal of CBT is to ultimately empower individuals to feel healthier in mind and in behavior. Learning to take control of one’s thoughts will help to instill the willpower and strength to overcome any eating disorder. CBT is an effective way to meet the needs of all individuals suffering from unhealthy thoughts and eating patterns.

Greta Gleissner is the Founder of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, a nationwide network of eating disorder treatment specialists that provide meal coaching and recovery skills such as CBT, DBT, ACT, MI, etc. EDRS works alongside treatment programs, teams and families to provide transitional aftercare support for post-residential treatment clients.





More from Greta Gleissner LCSW
More from Psychology Today
More from Greta Gleissner LCSW
More from Psychology Today