How We Treat Eating Disorders

By Deborah Schweiger-Whalen

In order to describe how we treat eating disorders we must first understand what an eating disorder is. After many years in this field, I have arrived at the conclusion that an eating disorder is very complex and simultaneously very simple. One thing is certain – eating disorders are always very serious.

What do I mean by this?…

When an individual is in the grips of an eating disorder life and all of life’s complexities are reduced to 2 things – controlling the body and a denial of need. People with eating disorders share the belief that if they can control what they eat and what they weigh then everything will be okay. Unfortunately, the only way to accomplish this is to deny our needs and hungers. This belief system and all of the efforts that are required to maintain it result in what we refer to as symptoms that when observed together require a diagnosis (see below for a detailed list of symptoms and associated diagnoses).

This philosophy creates a sense of safety since now all pain, fear, and hurt no longer exist if the symptoms are successful. The reality, however, is that a self-imposed prison is erected around the individual as the symptoms gain in momentum and become more addictive, more dangerous. The disorder eventually takes over, so that one’s entire sense of self is derived from one’s weight. A life gets smaller, reduced to a number on a scale, the number of calories consumed, or the amount of time spent exercising.

This happens because, despite the fact that for a while people can live in the equation “control my body + deny my needs = I’ll be safe and happy,” the reality is life isn’t simple at all. We can never really escape reality, only delay it.

Life is a journey filled with tremendous complexity

In my experience, I have found that eating disorders are a language. From an evolutionary perspective, humans are endowed with an imperative to communicate. We communicate in numerous ways; through words, gestures, dance, song, myths and through behavior. We communicate about our joy and our sorrow. When our internal life is flooded with pain and our feelings overwhelm us we tell of this through what I refer to as wounded communication. Eating disorder symptoms tell a story…a very important, sometimes life or death story.

At Deborah Schweiger-Whalen & Associates, we’ll begin by asking you to tell us your story. Initially, it will be encrypted in your symptoms. We’ll start there. We’ll work with you to understand how the above philosophy became so essential for you to live by. We’ll assist you in healing your body through symptom reduction.

One of the primary goals of treatment is to facilitate the shift from the use of eating disorder symptoms as an expression of feelings to the use of words that truly give voice to the emotions that have been veiled by the disorder. You’ll learn to honor your behaviors, even if they were ultimately harmful to you. As self-love and compassion ignite within you, you’ll develop an appreciation for how your eating disorder was an earnest attempt to make life more manageable.

Exactly “How” we do this is outlined in the “Services” page (please click here to review the services offered). We offer a full array of integrative services that are specifically designed to propel you into recovery.

You’ll receive support and understanding while being challenged.

Recovery is Possible…

It requires a good deal of tenacity and courage. The good news, however, is that individuals with eating disorders are equipped with tremendous tenacity and courage. It is possible to live differently – to experience life as it was meant to be. Full of joy, hope and wonder.

An Eating Disorder Can Be Understood in Terms of Diagnostic Labels

Diagnoses are arrived at by organizing the various symptoms people struggle with into groups. Historically, diagnoses have focused on the symptoms expressed by girls and women. Today, we are much more aware of the reality that boys and men also develop eating disorders and that there are specific features associated with them.


Anorexia is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by severe food restriction, weight-loss and an irrational fear of being fat.


  • Resistance to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height
  • Intense fear of weight gain or being “fat” despite being underweight
  • Overvaluation of thinness and its importance to self-worth
  • Preoccupation with food, weight, calories, fat grams, and dieting
  • Distorted body image
  • Loss of menstrual cycle
  • Denial of hunger
  • Excessive and rigid exercise regimen even when tired or injured
  • Development of food rituals
  • Refusal to eat certain foods
  • Easily fatigued
  • Dizziness
  • Thinning hair or hair loss


Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by binge eating followed by purging.


  • Eating large amounts of food accompanied by a feeling of being out of control
  • Reacting to stress and other emotions by overeating
  • Feeling regret, guilt, or shame after binges
  • Fear of becoming fat following binges
  • Compensation for overeating after binges by purging (vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, compulsive exercise, increased fasting)
  • Use of bathroom directly after meals
  • Excessive valuation of thinness for self-esteem and mood regulation
  • Extreme concern with body weight and shape
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Discoloration or staining of teeth
  • Swollen jaw and cheeks
  • Gastrointestinal problems


BED is characterized by binge eating that is not followed by purging.


  • Frequently consuming unusually large amounts of food
  • Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
  • Turning to food as a way of coping with feelings
  • Eating to the point of feeling uncomfortably full
  • Experiencing extreme feelings of guilt and shame after eating
  • Eating alone because of shame and embarrassment
  • Being overweight or morbidly overweight


In AA, athletes pay excessive attention to food intake and weight out of concern for improving performance and meeting-weight specific criteria.


  • Regular engagement in excessive exercise
  • Overall self-esteem is dictated by athletic performance and one’s ability to control food intake
  • Denial of exercise related injury and the need for rest
  • Friendships and peer related activities are not as important as “practicing” one’s sport


In MD, individuals experience distress related to perceived inadequate musculature and a preoccupation with gaining muscle without fat.


  • Extreme pursuit of muscularity as opposed to thinness per se
  • Majority of self-evaluation is based on muscular build and appearance
  • Ideal body image is often based on an unrealistic and unattainable “Hollywood” body
  • Socialization and peer related activities are reduced due to amount of time spent “working out”