Body Image Class Developed to Help Patients with Eating Disorders

Part of eating disorders has to do with how a person views their body. Menninger has developed a body image class to help patients change the way they think about their bodies. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports

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Eating disorders vary and can be a complicated problem to treat. Doctor Janice Poplack is director and primary clinician at Menninger Clinic Eating Disorder Program. She says eating disorders usually have other illnesses such as mood disorders or chemical dependency issues.

"When you have eating disorder that has to be resolved to some degree before you can work on things like major depression, substance abuse and bi-polar disorder. The reason for that is the eating order can trigger the other symptoms of these disorders."

Mental Health Counselor Deborah Henderson works with patients in a body image program that involves several exercises.

"We have them draw what they think they look like, then we actually have them lay down on the paper and we trace them. Then we talk about the differences in the two."

Henderson says they don't want the people to see themselves as lines on a piece of paper.

"Because we don't want them to look at themselves just as lines, because that is pretty much how they see themselves. They see themselves as a number on a scale or the size of their clothes or the number on the tape measure."

Patients talk about their interests and dreams. Henderson says they also have a mirror exercise.

"We're actually trying to get them to look in the mirror we have them describe themselves non-judgmentally, it cannot be a positive or negative judgment, it has just got to be without judgment, and they go and they describe themselves head to feet. And the purpose of that is to be able to get them to look in the mirror, look at themselves objectively and say "ok, I look great today" or "I look ok today, my outfits together my hair is done" and be able to walk out of the house without it affecting their entire day. Some of the patients will actually, once they see themselves in the mirror, they actually won't go out for the day."

A patient's thoughts can be the most long-lasting challenge. Again Doctor Poplack:

"A person can be working really hard in treatment, they can improve a tremendous amount, their symptoms really start to dissipate, but body image is the last of the symptoms to correct itself."

Poplack says it can take as long as seven years before people's images of their bodies will change. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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