Are Eating Disorders and Anxiety Connected?

Eating Disorders and Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are common mental health conditions that may coincide with eating disorders. According to the article Anxiety and Disordered Eating, approximately 65 percent of all patients with eating disorders also have at least one anxiety disorder that predates the eating disorder and may persist after the eating disorder goes into remission.

When anxiety and eating disorders occur at the same time, symptoms may become worse and make it more difficult to recover. That’s why treatment for both disorders is essential to helping a patient move forward.

What Is an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions that may cause a person to have a heightened response of fear or dread when in certain situations or around certain objects, places, or people. Around 30 percent of all adults have an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental disorders.

Anxiety disorders come in different forms. The common thread is that symptoms interfere with a person’s daily activities, like going to work or performing in front of people. There are many kinds of anxiety disorders, some of which may include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobias
  • Social anxiety disorder

Anxiety disorders may be more common than you’d think. It is estimated that around two percent of all U.S. adults experience generalized anxiety disorder each year. Another two to three percent of people are estimated to struggle with a panic disorder. Social anxiety disorder is estimated to occur at a rate of around seven percent of adults, and other specific phobias take place at a rate of around eight to 12 percent.

Interestingly, women are more likely to have anxiety disorders than men.

What Are the Signs of an Anxiety Disorder?

The signs of an anxiety disorder will vary case by case. Some common signs and symptoms you may recognize include:

  • Restlessness or feeling like you’re “on edge”
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Feeling easily fatigued
  • Having a hard time controlling worrying habits
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Excessive anxiety or worrying taking place more often than not over six months or more
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Anxiety, physical symptoms, and worry that produce clinically significant distress or impairment in occupational, social, or other situations

What Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders commonly co-occur with anxiety disorders, which may make symptoms worse and recovery more challenging. Eating disorders are defined as persistent eating behaviors that negatively affect your physical, mental, and emotional health. They interfere in multiple areas of life such as maintaining close relationships, performance in school or work, or accomplishing goals. Most commonly, eating disorders are associated with extreme reduction or food avoidance, binge-purge behaviors, or an inability to control excessive food intake. Other disordered behaviors include fixation on others’ perception of your body, ritualistic exercise habits, or participating in extreme fad diets. All of these problems could become life-threatening or lead to death in acute cases.

The most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by avoidant or acute restricted eating habits. While this disorder is often associated with extremely low body weight, not everyone experiencing symptoms of Anorexia will fit that stereotypical image. People who have anorexia may have an intense fear of gaining weight and struggle to eat. They may also have a distorted perception of their weight or body image, also known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is another type of eating disorder that is characterized by a distorted body image and the desire to lose weight. With bulimia, individuals go through periods of overconsumption (beyond the point of feeling full) followed by self-induced purging, vomiting, or fasting. The individuals may also be depressed or show signs of anxiety triggered by eating, especially in front of others.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Binge eating disorder, also known as BED, is when someone in unable to control their food consumption, especially when experiencing emotional distress such as anxiety or depression. People with BED consumes a large amount of food in a short period and may experience guilt or shame afterward. Unlike people with bulimia, those with BED do not purge after a binge.

What Are the Signs of Eating Disorders?

The signs of eating disorders vary by the disorder, but some of the shared symptoms may include:

  • Being overly concerned about shape or weight
  • Having a co-occurring anxiety disorder
  • Having a negative self-image
  • Obsessing over ‘food rules’
  • Having trouble eating during early childhood or infancy
  • Having unusual cultural or social ideas about beauty and health that must be adhered to

Some other signs that someone may have an eating disorder include:

  • Getting up to go to the bathroom immediately after a meal
  • Cutting food into extremely small pieces or moving the food around on a plate without eating
  • Using pills to encourage bowel movements or to decrease appetite
  • Excessive exercise and preoccupation with burning a specific number of calories

Anxiety and Eating Disorder Statistics

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the three major eating disorders have the highest risk of existing alongside an anxiety disorder. Looking at the statistics:

  • 47.9 percent of people with anorexia nervosa had an anxiety disorder
  • 80.6 percent of people with bulimia nervosa had an anxiety disorder
  • 65.1 percent of people with binge eating disorder had an anxiety disorder

What Treatments Are Available for Anxiety and Eating Disorders?

There are various treatments available for anxiety and eating disorders. It’s important to get dual-diagnosis treatment, so both conditions are treated simultaneously.

Some of the most common treatments for anxiety and eating disorders include:

  • Therapy: Dialectical behavior therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, assists individuals in recognizing fear-based or negative beliefs and overcoming them
  • Medications: Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) may help with anxiety as a short- or long-term solution
  • Medical intervention: When someone’s body weight is extremely low, they may need to be hospitalized and given fluids or foods. Tube feeding may be required in some cases.

In the long term, patients with anxiety and eating disorders do need relapse support. They may attend regular psychotherapy sessions or work with others to continue managing their symptoms and avoid a relapse. Both conditions may continue to occur alongside one another, so achieving long-term eating disorder and anxiety recovery relies on managing both conditions and preventing a relapse due to stress or other factors.

If you or someone you know are experiencing an eating disorder and need help, Eating Disorder Solutions is here for you. Call us today to discuss your next steps toward recovery.