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Use Your Mind as an Eating Disorder Weapon

Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by periods of binge eating, followed by attempts to purge the body of those calories…and it’s notoriously difficult to treat.

A groundbreaking study from the University of Granada, however, may have uncovered a way to treat bulimia using nothing more than a mirror and some simple mindfulness tools. Specifically, among women with bulimia, researchers identified two psychological techniques that were found to reduce body image dissatisfaction and bring down levels of salivary cortisol, which is a hormone released in times of stress.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

The first technique, “guided exposure,” asked participants to observe themselves in the mirror while describing their bodies in a “neutral and objective” way – kind of like instructing an artist to draw them. The second technique, “pure exposure,” asked participants observe their bodies in the mirror and express how it makes them feel — positive or negative.

The study involved 29 women who were all diagnosed with bulimia nervosa and high body dissatisfaction. They were divided into two groups: One group received the guided exposure technique, the other received pure exposure.

Researchers tracked changes in their feelings, as well as their body satisfaction and salivary cortisol levels.

Resulting Data Highlights

  • The researchers found that both exposure techniques reduced negative thoughts and feelings
  • Both techniques boosted positive thoughts and feelings, throughout the course of the treatment.
  • Both techniques also reduced cortisol levels.
  • However, the pure exposure technique was more effective at increasing body satisfaction; it also minimized the discomfort caused by the sight of their own body during sessions.

These findings seem to indicate that expressing negative thoughts and feelings about body image are largely effective. This kind of technique “could be an effective therapeutic strategy for reducing body dissatisfaction in people with eating disorders and, in a preventive way, in women with high body dissatisfaction levels,” said the study’s lead author, UGR researcher Sandra Díaz Ferrer.

Love Yourself – Just as You Are

Body dissatisfaction is one of the primary causes of eating disorders, which have become a growing problem among men and women of all ages.

Exposure – in this case, to your own body – is one of the most studied body satisfaction methods developed in recent decades. Díaz Ferrer explains that the goal is to teach people to “manage negative thoughts and feelings” about their bodies in a “more constructive way, without avoiding them.”

“With this research, we don’t expect women to change their bodies, but to let them be able to accept them and to love them as they are,” she says. “We should not let mirrors to be enemies in which we can only see what society tells us is beautiful.”