Feelings of sadness from life’s difficult moments or from a traumatic event is absolutely normal. However, when feelings of hopelessness and questions about self-worth arise when people are struggling with their weight and self-image, individuals may be diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder. Co-occurring disorders, such as an eating disorder and depression, can have lifelong mental and physical consequences if individuals do not seek the treatment they deserve.
What is an Eating Disorder?
According to the National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders, about 30 million people of all ages and genders in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. An eating disorder is an illness that is caused by multifaceted mental, physical, and social factors. Eating disorders are typically a result of a negative self-image, societal expectations, or social pressures that cause unwanted stress and feelings of self-doubt about one’s image.
Individuals with an eating disorder are often consumed by stress in their environments and engage in destructive eating behaviors as a coping mechanism to battle through difficult moments. They often have a distorted self-image and experience a cycle of guilt and stress from unwanted thoughts about food and their weight. This obsession to achieve the ‘perfect body image’ can lead to feelings of hopelessness and questions of self-worth.
What is Depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that is characterized by chronic levels of sadness, feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and guilt. Depression affects the ways in which a person thinks, behaves, and feels and can ultimately lead to suicidal thoughts. The causes of depression can be linked to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the following are the signs and symptoms of depression:
- Long-lasting feelings of sadness or anxiousness
- Having an empty mood
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Having difficulty concentrating or making rational decisions
- Feeling lethargic
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Declining physical appearance
- Withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities
- Removal from social groups or family
- Exhibiting low levels of self-esteem
- Experiencing suicidal thoughts/attempts
When individuals are diagnosed with an eating disorder and depression, they find themselves trapped in an endless cycle of sadness and guilt because they struggle with achieving the ‘ideal body type’. Getting informed about the detrimental effects eating disorders and depression can have on individuals will encourage you or someone you love get the help needed to overcome both disorders.
Anorexia Nervosa and Depression
Individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa often experience a negative self-image and believe they appear overweight. Evidently, this causes individuals to have a very unhealthy relationship with food and leads to the under consumption of calories needed to maintain a healthy body. In serious cases, individuals may not consume any calories at all and may experience serious health problems that can ultimately be fatal.
When individuals experience long-lasting feelings of sadness or question their self-worth, they may also be showing signs of depression. Questions of self-worth and feelings of hopelessness can cause individuals to cope by trying to restrict their caloric intake to achieve the ‘ideal body weight’. The obsession over the perfect body weight and self-image can completely overcome a person’s mind and can lead to negative thoughts and behaviors.
Bulimia Nervosa and Depression
Individuals diagnosed with bulimia nervosa are often characterized by engaging in destructive behaviors such as purging, using laxatives, exercising excessively, or fasting in an unhealthy way. Individuals are typically unhappy about their weight and use destructive behaviors to cope with the stress of eating a large amount of food or high caloric foods.
People with bulimia nervosa may also be diagnosed with depression because the repetitive cycles of binging and purging can cause neverending feelings of shame and sadness. The constant fluctuation in weight and eating patterns can cause individuals to give up on achieving their ideal weight and can lead to social withdrawal and intense feelings of anxiety.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and Depression
Binge eating disorder is often characterized by eating too much food in a very short amount of time to the point where individuals feel sick or uncomfortably full. Individuals diagnosed with binge-eating disorder often appear overweight or obese.
Individuals who binge eat often use food as a coping mechanism in response to social and environmental stressors. When they engage in a binge eating episode, it is often followed by intense feelings of guilt. These feelings of guilt will continue to persist as long as the binge eating occurs. To overcome depressed feelings and binge eating, individuals must learn how to take care of themselves through relaxation techniques that replace negative thoughts and behaviors with positive outcomes.
Seeking Effective Treatment
Beginning the healing process is essential for individuals struggling with an eating disorder and depression. The only way to truly restore the individual’s mind, body, and spirit back to its healthy state is to seek a treatment recovery plan that emphasizes whole person care.
Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists are highly trained professionals who are equipped to help individuals establish self-soothing techniques, meal plans, and personalized coping mechanisms learned through methods such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to best treat any co-occurring disorder. Specialists empathize with each patient and create a personalized recovery plan that fits the needs of every individual. With an emphasis on cultivating self-compassion and feeding the mind, body, and spirit with healthful nutrients, individuals will build the resiliency needed to fully recover from their co-occurring disorder.
Greta Gleissner is the Founder of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, a nationwide network of eating disorder treatment specialists that provide meal coaching and recovery skills such as CBT, DBT, ACT, MI, etc. EDRS works alongside treatment programs, teams and families to provide transitional aftercare support for post-residential treatment clients.