I have recently had increased anxiety and panic attacks due to being sexually abused. This has triggered me to have disordered eating in order to try to control my situation. I have been experiencing some anorexia and bulimia tendencies. I am now considered underweight by Bmi standards (17.5). I also believe I am experiencing depression. I want the depression and panic attacks to stop without the use of medication, and have considered therapy, but I do not want to give up the eating disorder. It brings me peace and a sense of control, and the weight loss has improved my self confidence.  I am not sure what to do next. Do you think a therapist will help me through the anxiety and depression without making me address the eating issues?  I am not experiencing any ill health effects and just want to lose 7 more pounds. Thank you!

 A: I think therapy is a great idea, and I’m glad you are thinking of giving it a try. I personally take a holistic approach to viewing problems and see individuals as a whole. In that light, the anxiety, depression and eating disorder are all most likely related to each other and might also be related to the sexual abuse you experienced. If you get help for the trauma, you will also be getting help for all the other symptoms you’ve described.

Most of the clients I have worked with who have an eating disorder are not eager to give it up either.It gives them a sense of control, but unfortunately it is based on false information. Body image distortion is very common, so what you perceive as looking good and boosting self-esteem, often looks concerning to others. Eating disorders can be quite dangerous and can negatively impact your body’s ability to regulate its own health.

I know it might be scary and quite challenging, to enter therapy with the idea that you might have to give up something you don’t want to lose, almost like giving up a friend. But if that friend is actually hurting you rather than helping you, it’s at least worth taking a look at. There are many ways to develop a sense of self control in your life as well as improving self esteem. By working with a therapist, you can dramatically improve your repertoire of coping skills. Rather than focusing your energy on what you might have to give up, try to focus on what you will gain if you can rid yourself of the unwanted symptoms. I would suggest looking for a therapist who specializes in trauma and abuse and address all your problems as a whole.

All the best,

Dr. Holly Counts