Although I work with adult clients suffering from eating disorders, I recently attended a course on “anxiety in children”. My rationale for this was that “in every adult there is a wounded child that needs attention, especially if there is an eating disorder present.”

I did not expect the speakers at this course to include much on eating disorders, so was pleasantly surprised when this topic was addressed. One of the topics was on “The impact of early life stress on brain function”

The speaker explained how research is now showing that cortisol levels which occur in the brain during stress may be directly related to weight gain. Her study was initially done on infant rats, which were taken away from their mother for 3 hours every day. The cortisol production in these infants increased and they started eating the “junk food” in their cage, which they had previously ignored before they were stressed. Most of these rats became fatter than the control group.

She did not explain why the rats became interested in the junk food, but it seems this may be more about the effects of cortisole than just “comfort food”, which is the common belief.

I do know that many treatment centres remove all sugar and refined flour from the diet, treating the eating disorder as an addiction. I cannot help feeling it is more effective to help clients manage their stress levels effectively and to focus on healthy balanced eating. This seems to be working well in our clinic.

Treating stress to reduce cortisol production, rather than removing carbohydrates and sugar, which is the best way to go?

I would be interested in any information that somebody reading this may have on this subject. With obesity becoming more and more of a problem, understanding this better may be really helpful. Feel free to share in the comment section below.

Although I was extremely impressed by all the speakers at the course, I was concerned that none of them mentioned “dialectical behavioral therapy”. For us, this has been extremely effective in managing and reducing stress (and hopefully cortisone levels!).

I first became aware of the effectiveness of dialectics when I was working with adolescents. One of the courses they received during their 6 week in–patient treatment was dialectics. When they were asked what they found most helpful in this full and intensive program, they almost always said “dialectics”. It was for this reason that I started increasing my knowledge on the subject and eventually teaching it to the clients that I now treat with eating disorders. Just as the adolescents said that they found it extremely helpful in managing their emotions, so do the ED clients that I work with.

Dialectical behavioral therapy was first discovered by Marsha Linehan to treat “self mutilation”, but is now used for anybody that struggles with managing intense emotion. Basically it helps people realize that they can tolerate emotion (eg: anger, fear, guilt, etc) so they do not have to do something immediately to get rid of the emotion, ie: act impulsively.

They are taught simple strategies that help them realize that emotions will pass and that they are able to wait until they are in “wise mind” and can then react more effectively.

So simple but so effective! Yet very few professionals seem to know about it!! What do you think? Leave your comment below.

Enjoy this short video about DBT by Marsha Linehan.