People commonly misperceive that individuals with eating disorders are “vain” or that eating disorders are all about wanting to look thin like models in the magazines. However, the reality is that eating disorders are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. — Jennifer Rollin MSW, LCSW-C
About 67% of individuals with eating disorders also have some type of anxiety disorder, the most common being mental illnesses. Those suffering from anxiety often have low self-esteem and body image issues, making it easier for them to be susceptible to eating disorders and unhealthy eating practices.
Eating Disorders as Harmful Coping Mechanisms
Anxiety disorders often cause individuals to try to and find coping mechanisms that can help them to handle the symptoms and feelings they have. However, a lot of the most common coping mechanisms aren’t healthy. In fact, some can worsen symptoms or create additional disorders altogether. A lot of those with an anxiety and eating disorder usually develop their eating habits in an attempt to cope with their anxiety.
Sometimes attitudes and behaviors emerge in response to the overwhelming despair and hopelessness that accompanies watching a loved one starving herself/himself. — Judy Scheel Ph.D., L.C.S.W., CEDS
Unfortunately, harmful coping mechanisms affect the individual much more as time goes on. In this attempt to cope, the guilt and anxiety worsen. For those with bulimia and other purging related disorders, the guilt follows an alleviation of anxiety that had been lifted after purging, binging and purging, and other practices. The guilt and anxiety that follow purging are almost always much worse than before. More purging occurs in an effort to mitigate the feelings of sadness and guilt. It works for a short time, but then the cycle repeats itself.
Eating Disorders: A Form of Self Harm
It stems from the relationship that anxiety disorders can have self-harming behaviors. Eating disorders are often categorized as a type of self-harm, even if the goal is to get in better shape or be healthier. More specifically, eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia are classified as “nonsuicidal self-injury”, or NSSI. When coinciding with anxiety, or any other mental illness, those who use unhealthy eating habits as a coping mechanism or self-punishment say that it works as a distraction for them. It helps to take the focus off their feelings while simultaneously matching their physical well-being and feelings to their negative emotions.
Many people who don’t “look like they have an eating disorder” based on their weight, gender, or skin color are not identified as having an eating disorder by medical professionals. — Alexis Conason Psy.D.
Breaking The Cycle
The only guaranteed way of breaking the harmful coping cycle is creating some kind of treatment plan. Eating and anxiety disorders can be treated at the same time in very similar ways. It’s actually encouraged by many psychologists and therapists to get treatment for both simultaneously. The most common and effective treatment plan is the counseling coupled with nutritional care, such as a certain diet to follow or just careful attention to eating habits.
There are hundreds of treatment centers throughout the United States, and other parts of the world, that are dedicated to providing the best care to those suffering from eating disorders and anxiety disorders. If treatment centers aren’t what fit your needs, there are eating disorder specialists, psychologists, and therapists that can be incredibly helpful and beneficial.
The most common treatment plan is cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT concentrates on identifying unhealthy behaviors and making an effort to alter patterns both behaviorally and mentally. CBT typically takes about three to four months for significant improvement to be evident. Of course, some health professionals also recommend medications to aid in the patient’s mental state. Nutritional counseling and group therapy can also be extremely beneficial for patients.
It’s important to remember that treatment plans are different for everyone. Different combinations of treatment work for different people and treatment centers acknowledge this. Treatment centers are the most beneficial for eating disorder and anxiety patients. With their help, each individual receives help constructing a treatment plan that works best for them and their specific needs. Getting help is the first step to recovery. Recovery is possible.