Effective Coping Skills in the Treatment of Eating Disorders

It has long been my contention that eating disorders are chronic, stress-related conditions where people, oftentimes at a very young age, begin to use eating disordered behaviors as a way of coping with stress in their lives. Initially many of these people discover that the eating disorder works quite well for them. In most cases they have never had the opportunity to learn healthy coping strategies.

Researchers have defined three kinds of coping: problem-focused, emotion-focused, and perception-focused coping. The skills and responses a person uses in times of stress may be different depending on how severely they are stressed.

When an individual uses problem-focused coping, they will take direct action on their surroundings or themselves to remove or attempt to change the threat. A person will use emotion-focused coping when he or she uses actions or thoughts to control unpleasant feelings brought on by the threat. When a person uses cognitive attempts to reduce or alter the severity of a threat, he or she is using perception-focused coping.

Another way of regarding coping strategies is to look at approach coping and avoidance coping. An individual who utilizes approach coping skills is someone who will usually take direct action to deal with the situation that is creating stress. Someone who is uses avoidance strategies is someone who will go to any lengths to avoid the situation or person who is creating stress in their lives.

Those individuals with excellent social resources will tend to rely more on approach coping than avoidance coping. Individuals who have sufficient support from family and friends will rely less on avoidance coping methods and rely more on approach coping methods. It makes sense to me that if I have something stressful happen in my life that things will be better if I take action and deal with it rather than avoiding it!

Coping skills include information gathering, stopping a certain behavior or action, and using cognitive coping eating disorder skills that can change the way the person looks at the problem. Coping skills have been defined as learned resourcefulness or a set of skills which a person uses to control certain internal events that might cause him or her unwanted pain, feelings, or fear.

Here are some healthy and effective coping skills that anyone can use:

  • Boost your self-esteem by becoming involved in activities that interest you. Discover your passion!
  • Go online and talk with an online friend.
  • Imagine yourself in a safe place where you do not need to think about doing anything that is harmful to yourself.
  • Make a list of positive affirmations. Pick one, look at yourself in the mirror and say if morning and night for 21 days. The affirmation will become a part of you!
  • Get a massage. You can get pretty inexpensive massages at any school that teaches massage.
  • Walk your dog or play with you cat.
  • Make a list of some nice things you would like to do for your friends.
  • Think about taking some classes or doing something to help you discover your passion.
  • Tell your parent, husband, partner, or friend that you love them.
  • Make a list of what you are grateful for. This is tough when you are stressed, but if you write it down, the act of writing will help!

Learning effective coping skills can change your life!

Jeanne Rust, PhD, is the founder and CEO of Mirasol, a holistic, integrative, eating disorders treatment center in Tucson, Arizona. Her pioneering work in the use of holistic and complementary interventions for eating disorder treatment has been featured in The Chicago Tribune, USA Today, The San Francisco Chronicle, Time magazine in the United States and Flair magazine in Canada.

Published Date: March 16, 2006
Last reviewed: By Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on September 1, 2011
Page last updated: October 17, 2012
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Resources & Help for an Eating Disorder