People that struggle with eating disorders are often dealing with a myriad of other problems that can interfere with their well-being. Eating disorders are not simply a result of a person’s relationship with food, they are often connected with more complex issues that cause certain behaviors. A common link between many types of eating disorders is an issue with depression.
Depression can both cause and be worsened by symptoms of an eating disorder. A person that doesn’t know how to cope with their feelings of depression might use food or controlling their food intake as a coping mechanism. Unhealthy and abnormal eating habits can also negatively affect the body and the mind, causing depression to increase.
Although not much is known about what causes risks for developing eating disorders, most surveys show that depression is a common factor. People that struggle with issues like bipolar disorder and clinical depression frequently have disordered eating and issues with food. It is critical to treat both types of mental illness when they occur together so that the patient can fully recover.
How Depression Influences Eating Disorders
People with depression have overwhelming feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and pain that they have trouble understanding. If they don’t receive treatment for their depression they may try to find ways to deal with it on their own. This is what leads people to self-medicate at times and engage in self-destructive behavior.
Depression can cause feelings that a person is not good enough and people with eating disorders can turn those feelings into perfectionism regarding their physical appearance and weight. Their perfectionism and dissatisfaction with themselves can get turned into a focus on food and being thin enough. People with anorexia may do all that they can to achieve an impossible ideal that is unhealthy and even dangerous.
People with other eating disorders like food addiction or binge eating are also using food as a way to deal with their depression. They may engage in compulsive overeating because when they are consuming high fat or high sugar “comfort foods” they are able to temporarily forget how they are feeling. However, their period of binging are usually followed by feelings of guilt and shame and even more intense depression.
Whatever type of eating disorder a person is dealing with, their attempts to cope with their feelings through food intake is likely to make their mental illness worse. Being underweight or overweight can both affect a person’s mood and their actions will often make them even more isolated. The two problems become inextricably linked as the influence each other.
Recognizing Symptoms of Depression
To determine if depression is a contributing cause to a person’s eating disorder, it can be helpful to be familiar with signs and symptoms. These are some of the common symptoms of depression-
Persistent feelings of sadness or despair
Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
Changes in sleeping patterns such as sleeping too little or too much
Irritability or anger
Feeling guilt or worthlessness
If any of these symptoms are problems that seem to contribute to a person’s disordered eating then they will most likely be diagnosed with a co-occuring disorder.
Treating Depression and an Eating Disorder
In order to recover from an eating disorder, it is important for the individual to treat their underlying symptoms of depression. It may be helpful for them to use medications such as antidepressants to help alleviate some of their symptoms quickly. Mood stabilizers can be very helpful in treating eating disorders because it can prevent overwhelming emotions from influencing their eating behavior.
Aside from medication, cognitive behavioral therapy is necessary in order to help patients think differently about food and about themselves. CBT can help address some of their feelings of perfectionism or negative beliefs about themselves that may fuel their eating disorder. Patients are encouraged to accept themselves as they are and reject some of their unrealistic ideals
Patients must also learn to adopt healthier eating habits and are often expected to have a certain level of food intake during treatment. For people with anorexia it may be much more than they are used to or for people with binge eating disorder it may be a controlled amount to prevent overeating. Changing their eating habits is crucial to recovery and is a necessary part of the treatment process.
After receiving treatment, patients in recovery will need to continue managing their depression in order to prevent relapse and maintain a healthy food intake. Eating disorders are complex but they are treatable with the right kind of professional help.