Eating disorders can be mistaken as fad diets or a phase. Eating disorders are extreme, rigid and unhealthy behaviors, believes and thoughts regarding body image, food intake or exercise. Eating disorders have affected over 20 million women and 10 million men at some point in their lives. These rigid and unhealthy behaviors usually lead to health problems, suicide and/or death.
Health problems range from muscle and bone deterioration, heart failure, tooth decay, chronic irregular bowel movements, and many others. The health problems differ depending on the eating disorder that the client may have. Nevertheless, if not treated eating disorders can be fatal. Much like other mental disorders, eating disorders are detrimental at a psychological, emotional and social level.
When working with people with eating disorders it is important to provide as much help and support as possible; much like any other mental disorder. People with eating disorders are not only suffering from a psychological and emotional component that reinstates the distorted beliefs of their unhealthy eating/binging/or not eating practices, these practices also impact their body and how it functions. Even though eating disorders are mental disorders, at times of crisis, it is beneficial to attend to their deteriorating body first.
Once the body has recovered, therapy should be applied to help untangle unhealthy behavior, thoughts and beliefs. Art-based therapies can also be helpful to people who have eating disorders because the interventions focus on exploring all aspects of the self. Art-based interventions focus on awakening the numbing that comes from anger, self-harm and denial. It helps the client explore unresolved emotions as well as toxic thoughts and distorted beliefs about the self and the body.
Art-based interventions work towards exploring thoughts and feelings that have led a person to compulsive eating, binging, purging, starving, over-exercising, and other harmful practices. In her article How can art therapy be used to treat eating disorders?, Laura Oliver, explains that art-based interventions provide a safe and healthy space for self-exploration, growth and meaning making. Art-based interventions provide a symbolic option, where images are the main form of communication. This helps clients go deeper than just words, thus eliminating negative labels and personal judgement.
Most people shy away from art-based interventions as they feel that they are not artistic enough. However, art-based interventions focus on the process and journey of the creation and not the end product of the journey. It is within the process that clients find understanding and hope.
Having resources and information about eating disorders and how to help can be beneficial and can save someone you love. Please review the National Eating Disorders page for information about types of eating disorder, symptoms, health problems, and how to help.