An Alternative Route to Eating Disorders – A Therapist’s View

Isabelle Jakobsen is a Youth Worker by profession and has worked with young people for the past 6 years both as an informal educator teaching positive thinking and also as a therapist. She has a master’s degree in  gestalt psychotherapy and has been working in the  field of eating disorders for the past four years. She holds motivational groups for people with this challenge and together with clients explore ways of healing and making the process easier and more manageable. Together they give birth to new ways of thinking  positive and find creative means of reaching the light at the end of the tunnel. 

She can be contacted on

‘I have had the pleasure to work with individuals who on a daily basis face this arduous task and do their best to lead a normal life. For some individuals on the outside of this sphere it is hard to even start to understand the struggle that is  encountered on a daily basis and for them it is just a matter of ‘eating’.

One has to understand that it is not a matter of attention seeking or playing truant but a process that these individuals go through as the mind coerces them to obey what ‘it’ wants as opposed to what is good for them.

As a therapist I hold groups of motivational psychotherapy with individuals who face this daily and together we explore ways and means of how they can have more tools to curb this and live a freer life. Together we share and find new meaning to past experiences and traumas, ways of letting go of experiences that shaped their lives and robbed them of the meaning and possibility of living a ‘normal’ life.  The beauty lies when things start to shift slowly and they begin to see progress and as a result, address their issues and start working on their inner self and bloom into what they were born to become as full individuals.

As mentioned earlier, for some it comes easy to judge and point fingers however it is important that we show love and acceptance and choose to go with their pace as for some the pace is slower than others and this is the secret to reaching the desired destination.

A lot of work and therapy is present in the journey and one must keep in mind that small steps and moving forward is a big deal as baby steps are required for change’

Eating disorder treatment depends on your particular challenge and your symptoms. It typically includes a combination of psychotherapy, nutrition education, medical monitoring and at times even medications.

Eating disorder treatment also involves addressing other health problems caused by the same condition, which can be serious or even life-threatening if they go untreated for too long. If an eating disorder doesn’t improve with standard treatment or causes health problems, you may need hospitalisation or another type of inpatient program.

Having an organised approach to eating disorder treatment can help you manage symptoms, return to a healthy weight and maintain your physical and mental health.

Where to start

Whether you start by seeing your general  practitioner or a psychiatrist, you’ll likely benefit from a referral to a team of professionals who specialise in eating disorder treatment. Professionals may include:

  • A  psychotherapist  to provide psychological therapy. If you need medication  you need to see a psychiatrist.
  • A registered dietitian to provide education on nutrition and meal planning.
  • Medical or dental specialists to treat health or dental problems that result from your eating disorder.
  • Your partner, parents or other family members. For young people still living at home, parents should be actively involved in treatment and may supervise meals.

It’s best if everyone involved in your treatment communicates about your progress so that adjustments can be made to treatment as needed.

Managing an eating disorder can be a long-term challenge. You may need to continue to see members of your treatment team on a regular basis, even if your eating disorder and related health problems are under control.

Setting up a care plan

You and your treatment team determine what your needs are and come up with a care plan  and guidelines. This is most effective to:

  • Develop a care plan. This includes a plan for treating your eating disorder and setting treatment goals. It also makes it clear what to do if you’re not able to stick with your plan.
  • Treat physical complications. Your treatment team monitors and addresses any health and medical issues that are a result of your eating disorder.
  • Identify resources. What would be ideal for you to do to remain healthy and be adequately supported.
  • Identify  treatment options. Hospitalisation and outpatient programs for treating eating disorders are available locally, ask what would be the best option for you.

Psychological therapy

Psychological therapy is an  important component during  eating disorder treatments. It involves seeing a psychotherapist  or another mental health professional on a regular basis.

Therapy may last from a few months to years. It can help you to:

  • Normalise your eating patterns and achieve a healthy weight
  • Exchange unhealthy habits for healthy ones
  • Learn how to monitor your eating and your moods
  • Develop problem-solving skills
  • Develop problem-solving skills
  • Improve your relationships
  • Improve your mood

Treatment may involve a combination of different types of therapy, such as:

  • Gestalt therapy exploring ‘what is’ and changing patterns in one’s daily living to become more functional and address certain  issues related to ones’ eating patterns.  This also helps to identify unhealthy thoughts and patterns and individuals are encouraged to explore ways of changing this into  healthier patterns.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy. This type of psychotherapy focuses on behaviours, thoughts and feelings related to your eating disorder. After helping you gain healthy eating behaviours, it helps you learn to recognise and change distorted thoughts that lead to eating disorder habits.
  • Family-based therapy. During this therapy, family members learn to help you restore healthy eating patterns and achieve a healthy weight until you can do it on your own. This type of therapy can be especially useful for parents learning how to help a teen with an eating disorder.
  • Group cognitive behavioural therapy. This type of therapy involves meeting with a therapist or other mental health professional along with others who are diagnosed with an eating disorder. It can help you address thoughts, feelings and behaviours related to your eating disorder, learn skills to manage symptoms, and regain healthy eating patterns.

Your therapist may ask you to do homework, such as keep a food journal to review in therapy sessions and identify triggers that cause you to binge, purge or do other unhealthy eating behaviours.

Nutrition education

Registered dietitians and other professionals involved in your treatment can help you better understand your eating disorder and help you develop a plan to achieve and maintain healthy eating habits. Goals of nutrition education may be to:

  • Work toward a healthy weight whilst  making friends with food
  • Understand how nutrition affects your body, including recognising how your eating disorder causes nutrition issues and physical problems
  • Practice meal planning
  • Establish regular eating patterns
  • Take steps to avoid dieting or bingeing

Medications for eating disorders

Medications are at times needed to help  cure an eating disorder however they’re most effective when combined with psychological therapy.

Always consult with your doctor before taking any medication.

Hospitalisation for eating disorders

Hospitalisation may be necessary if you have serious physical or mental health problems or if you have anorexia and are unable to eat or gain weight. Severe or life-threatening physical health problems that occur with anorexia can be a medical emergency.

In many cases, the most important goal of hospitalisation is to stabilize acute medical symptoms through beginning the process of normalizing eating and weight.

Residential treatment for eating disorders

With residential treatment, you temporarily live at a  treatment centre. A residential treatment program may be necessary if you need long-term care for your eating disorder or you’ve been in the hospital a number of times but your mental or physical health hasn’t improved.

Ongoing treatment for health problems

Eating disorders can cause serious health problems related to inadequate nutrition, overeating, bingeing and other factors. The type of health problems caused by eating disorders depends on the type and severity of the eating disorder. In many cases, problems caused by an eating disorder require ongoing treatment and monitoring.

Take an active role

You are the most important member of your treatment team. For successful treatment, you need to be actively involved in your treatment and so do your family members and other loved ones.