Of all the problems associated with disordered eating, body image is one of the most difficult to address. Body image — the way that you feel about your body — is often the precipitant to an eating disorder. A person may do well with the nutritional aspects of disordered eating, but is left with a body image that doesn’t change or actually worsens due to needed weight gain. Because body image and self-image are so closely connected, a negative or distorted body image can affect a person’s sense of self.
While there are many ways to work with body image, there are times when negative body image feels almost stuck. The concern is that the negative body image can trigger a recurrence of eating disorder symptoms. At times such as this, it may be helpful to try another approach to body image. EMDR is one such approach.
EMDR — which stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing — is a form of treatment that can be used in conjunction with talk and nutrition therapy. Using the EMDR approach, people are helped to identify pivotal moments in their body image history, and the accompanying negative cognitions that developed. For example, some people with eating disorders or body image concerns have history a history of being criticized about weight, and may have developed a sense of being “defective” in some way. The EMDR process would target those memories, helping the person to develop a newer, more positive self-image.
EMDR works using bilateral stimulation of both hemispheres of the brain using directed eye movements to the left and right, an auditory tone in each ear or alternating vibrations in each hand. This allows the person to connect to other related memories or to gain insight into the situation they are working on. One advantage of this is that it may sometimes release a memory or issue that has felt immovable in talk therapy.
In addition to resolving body image traumas, EMDR can also be used to target the actual behaviors related to disordered eating, such as binge/purge incidents or overeating, often reducing the incidence of these behaviors or quieting the eating disorder voice.
While EMDR is not for everyone, many people can benefit from this approach. Some resources are listed below.