The Relationship Between Depression And Eating Disorders
What is Depression?
Depression is most simply defined as feeling sad with little to no change in mood for at least weeks at a time. Common symptoms include the following:
- extreme sadness
- losing interest in things that one enjoyed in the past
- feeling tired
- change in eating and sleeping patterns
- feeling worthless
In our weight-biased culture, when a fat person loses weight, it is almost always seen as a good thing. Even when that weight loss is caused by an eating disorder. — Alexis Conason Psy.D.
Connections to Eating Disorders
Depression is one of the many mental illnesses that commonly occur with typical eating disorders. It is one of the more classic mental disorders that coincide with eating disorders, along with anxiety and other mood disorders. Depression can cause or be caused by eating disorders. Thus, it is almost always present, whether it be mild or severe.
According to the National Institute of Mental Illness and some family and health-related sites like FamilyEducation and WhatToExpect about, 75% of individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder are also diagnosed with depression and/or an anxiety disorder. Depression that causes eating disorders is usually due to patients attempting to cope with their depressive symptoms through unhealthy eating habits. It acts as a coping mechanism the same way that other self-injurious behaviors act – either as a distraction or a way to punish themselves.
Depression that is caused by an eating disorder is typically the result of the dangerous behaviors that are being practiced. For anorexia and bulimia, a majority of patients often feel that they are never skinny enough, evoking feelings of worthlessness and insignificance. Since worthlessness is a common symptom of depression, it makes it extremely easy for an individual with anorexia or bulimia to develop depression.
Eating disorders are not a choice. No one chooses to lose all of their friends, because they cannot go anywhere that there will be food. — Jennifer Rollin MSW, LCSW-C
Fortunately, those with an eating disorder and depression can often receive treatment for both disorders simultaneously. This is because the treatment plans and medications used for depression can also be used to treat common eating disorders. Of course, there is usually some kind of altering that must be done according to each person who is being treated based on their experiences, symptoms, severity of the disorder, family history, and other factors.
Medications that are used to treat depression by increasing serotonin can also be very beneficial for some eating disorders. Prozac is prescribed by a lot of medical professionals to treat both depression and bulimia, and it can also be helpful when treating binge eating disorder. Prozac is one of the most successful medications because it’s an antidepressant that uses serotonin to boost the patient’s mood while also controlling it. It also generates a feeling of fullness. This way, individuals with bulimia and binge eating can have fewer episodes of sadness while also feeling full, helping to prevent the need to binge.
Bulimia and binge eating, especially when left untreated, can have negative effects on the brain’s hypothalamus, altering the patient’s feelings of fullness. The patient may never feel full or their brain is just unable to register the fact that they are full. Consequently, it makes it much easier to overeat, encouraging binge episodes. However, serotonin can help regulate the hypothalamus, making Prozac and other antidepressants extremely helpful for those who binge.
Feelings of shame and guilt about one’s self image can cause individuals to continue on a cycle of stress if they do not have a productive outlet. — Greta Gleissner LCSW
The most successful type of therapy for both eating disorders and mood disorders like depression is cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT focuses on understanding the patient’s behavioral and thinking patterns that typically lead to them feeling depressed or the need to practice unhealthy eating habits. Once the patterns are identified and processed, a therapist or counselor, of some sort, attempt to change the patterns in a way that the patient will no longer feel sad or have the need to binge, starve, or purge. Cognitive-behavioral therapy usually takes about twelve to sixteen weeks before progress is recognized. However, it is the most successful therapy and when used with antidepressants, a patient is usually well on the road to recovery.