How To Deal With Depression Associated With Eating Disorders.

May 23, 2013

Eating disorder and depression

by Jared Friedman

Millions of men and women struggle with eating disorders everyday. When a person’s relationship with food and his or her body has gotten out of control, and the individual can no longer maintain a healthy body weight, depression can be a very real part of the equation.

Lisa Lilenfeld, PhD, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Argosy University in Arlington, Virginia who specializes in eating disorders, states that, “Being severely underweight and malnourished, which is common in anorexia, can cause physiological changes that are known to negatively affect mood states.”

Eating Disorder Emotional Trauma 

Ira M. Sacker, MD, an eating disorders specialist at Langone Medical Center at New York University and author of the book, Regaining Your Self: Understanding and Conquering the Eating Disorder Identity, adds that, “People who develop eating disorders feel as people that they’re not good enough. They become obsessed with perfectionism. That perfectionism begins to focus on what they eat. But underlying it is depression and anxiety. Often, these patients have suffered a lot of emotional trauma.”

Many professionals in the mental health field believe that symptoms of depression can lead a person to eating disorder behaviors, and eating disorder behaviors can cause someone to experience symptoms of depression. These aspects of the two disorders makes the combination difficult to treat. However, there are ways to deal with depression associated with eating disorders

Depression And Eating Disorders

Depression in people with eating disorders typically has its own unique features, and therefore needs to be treated individually, case by case, especially when depression is a part of the person’s story. Dual diagnosis treatment is available. Various mental health rehab facilities specialize in the concurrent treatment of the symptoms of two diagnosed disorders. While you, or your loved one, is receiving guided asssistance for an eating disorder, the symptoms of depression are also being treated.

With a persoanlized treatment plan for each client, these dual diagnosis programs focus on the unique set of needs presented when one person suffers from an eating disorder and depression.

Identify The Disorders 

The first step is to identify the two co-occurring disorders. The following symptoms can help guide you toward what eating disorder you, or someone you love, is dealing with, and whether or not depression is also present.

The three main categories of eating disorders are:

Anorexia nervosa:

  • Identified by weight loss generally due to an excessive need to diet and exercise.
  • Starvation, marked by an extremely unhealthy body weight, is a sure sign of anorexia.
  • The inability to ever feel thin enough, and the continuation of seeing oneself as overweight even when at an unhealthily low body weight, signals anorexia.

Bulimia nervosa:

  • Signaled by a person’s repeated cycle of binging, or extreme overeating, followed by purging, or self-induced vomiting to ride the system of everything just eaten.
  • Behaviors, such as over-exercising, are used to compensate for overeating.
  • Feelings of guilt and loss of control over eating also signal bulimia

Binge eating disorder:

  • Characterized by regular episodes of binge overeating and feelings of loss of control about eating.
  • An inability to not eat large amounts of food, even when the person does not want to eat that much.

Once you have determined which category of eating disorder is most appropriate for your behaviors, is depression also a part of your pain? 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the most common symptoms of depression are:

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

If you feel that both diagnoses apply to you, contact a local treatment center for an assessment. You don’t have to live like this any longer. Help yourself, or a loved one, start on the road to recovery from an eating disorder and depression.

Image Credit: Eidur Kappler