Eating Disorders and Self-Harm

A recent study found self-harming behaviors in 50% of those battling with eating disorder. Please read to find out about possible self-harm treatments for those suffering from eating disorders.

Upon first arriving clients may sit down with a Case Manager and set their goals. They discuss their eating disorder(s), other addictions, past trauma, family history and incidents of self-harm. Clients with self-harming backgrounds are closely monitored and observed by Support Staff for signs of improvement or set back. The self-harming behaviors are addressed in private counseling sessions with therapists.

Self-harm has been around for years with the recovery community. However, many families are still uneducated on the cause and effects of self-harm.

What is self-harm?

Self-Harm is a behavior that can include, biting, burning cutting, picking ones skin and hair-pulling until an injury occurs.

Why do people do this?

There are many functions that self-injury can serve. Most noted is the release of anxiety in relating to other people and related to internal thoughts and emotions. Self-harm is triggered by desiring help from others or one’s inability to deal with a stressful situation. Intrapresonally self-harm helps with regulating overwhelming emotions  and generate feelings emotional numbness which separates the mind from feelings that are causing anguish.

A study published in the latest edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health found a link in adolescents between eating disorders and self-harming behaviors like cutting and burning. It also found that in most cases, clinicians didn’t screen for such behaviors.

“Self-injurious behaviors have been shown to be common in adults with eating disorders and in adolescents with bulimia in small studies,” said study author Dr. Rebecka Peebles, former instructor at the Stanford University School of Medicine and now an assistant professor at the
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine reviewed the medical records of nearly 1,500 patients between the ages of 10 and 21 who were diagnosed with an eating disorder at an eating disorder clinic over an 11-year period. Only about 42% of them had documentation that they were screened for self-injurious behaviors when they first were seen in the clinic. Of those who had screening documentation, nearly 41 percent admitted to cutting or burning themselves.

The study suggested eating disorders and behaviors like cutting are linked, and also that people with eating disorders need to be more carefully screened for such behaviors. Experts said the findings help confirm a long-suspected association between the eating disorders and self-injury, and by doing so may improve screening measures.

“It’s generally held that these behaviors are fueled by an underlying level of anxiety and they branch out in many different ways,” said Dr. Richard Pesikoff, clinical professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine. “People do a variety of self-soothing behaviors like rocking, picking or cutting.” That anxiety in people with eating disorders, he said, is often very complex and intense.

“The eating soothes the anxiety, but creates a new set of problems,” said Pesikoff. “Then they worry about being fat. Then they have to resolve that. Then they cut.”

The behavior of cutting, which he said is typically done to the arms, offers physical relief from emotional pain.

“Cutting produces endorphins that produce an anti-anxiety effect,” said Pesikoff.

The experts also said that cutting and burning are methods people with eating disorders use to punish themselves as a result of self-hatred.

If you or your loved one is struggling

with an eating disorder and self-harm we encourage you to seek help immediately.