Depression and eating disorders often go hand-in-hand, yet there remains an air of mystery around the connection between the two.
While it may surprise some, clinical research has consistently suggested that depressive symptoms and disordered eating behaviors are profoundly linked.
In particular, studies have found that people with elevated levels of depression are more likely to develop eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.
Let’s find the more profound connection between depression and eating disorders.
Depression and Eating Disorders: What’s the Connection?
Depression is a mental disorder characterized by feelings of intense sadness, loneliness, worthlessness, restlessness, and fatigue. Depression can be caused by different factors, such as genetics, lifestyle choices, traumatic events, or prolonged stress.
Eating disorders are characterized by the unhealthy consumption of food – either through restriction (starvation) or bingeing (overeating) – and can be life-threatening if left untreated.
Research has highlighted a strong connection between depression and eating disorders, with individuals suffering from depression being more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who don’t have a mental illness.
Intriguingly, a 2018 study revealed that anorexia nervosa and depression symptoms often co-exist. In the study, those suffering from anorexia nervosa were more likely to experience anxiety, irritability, and difficulty concentrating than their counterparts who did not suffer from the eating disorder.
Depression can lead to decreased appetite, resulting in unintentional weight loss. However, a decreased appetite can also lead to eating disorders such as restriction or bingeing.
Navigating depression can be tricky; some of us might feel like we’re not hungry at all, while for others, it could become an escape or coping mechanism.
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Can Depression Cause Eating Disorders?
The exact cause of this link is still not clear. However, studies suggest that the following factors can lead to the development of an eating disorder in individuals with depression:
Social Pressure and Body Image Issues
People with depression may develop an eating disorder as a form of self-harm or as a means to cope with feelings of insecurity or low self-esteem. They may also come under pressure from societal norms that prescribe certain beauty standards and body shapes.
For example, a person struggling with depression may become fixated on their body image, engaging in disordered eating behaviors to gain control over their physical appearance.
Studies suggest that certain brain chemicals, such as serotonin, are linked to depression and the onset of eating disorders.
Low serotonin levels can lead to decreased impulse control, which may explain why some individuals with depression are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as overeating or starving themselves.
Individuals with depression often experience low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness, and helplessness. It can lead them to disordered eating behaviors as a way to gain better control over their lives.
Low self-esteem can also lead to negative thoughts and shame, further impeding recovery from depression and eating disorders.
Environment and External Stressors
External stressors, such as bullying or family conflicts, can also trigger depression and eating disorders. In addition, the negative emotions and stress associated with these experiences can lead to disordered eating behaviors.
As an example, children who are experiencing bullying may turn to binge eating as a way of dealing with their stress, while adults in less-than-satisfactory relationships might choose the path of starvation to achieve some sense of control over their life.
Treating Depression and Eating Disorders: How to Get Help
Depression and eating disorders can be treated simultaneously through a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. It is important to seek professional help from a qualified mental health professional to create an individualized treatment plan to address all of the underlying issues.
Still, there are some other things you can do to help manage depression and eating disorders:
You don’t have to tackle this alone. A therapist with expertise in depression and eating disorders can be invaluable to your journey.
For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is particularly effective for helping individuals with depression and eating disorders to identify and manage triggers, develop healthier coping mechanisms, regulate eating behaviors, and cultivate a positive self-image.
Your doctor may recommend medication to help manage symptoms of depression and/or eating disorders. Antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or antipsychotics may be prescribed to help regulate your emotions and manage symptoms of depression.
In addition, your doctor may prescribe medications specifically designed to treat eating disorders, such as binge eating. These medications can help regulate the hormones associated with hunger, help you feel fuller and longer, and reduce cravings.
Making lifestyle changes can also be beneficial in managing depression and eating disorders. It could include engaging in regular physical activity, eating a balanced diet, reducing stress levels through relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation, getting enough sleep, and finding exciting hobbies.
It is also important to practice self-care and avoid negative self-talk. Remind yourself of your worth and that you are worthy of recovery.
Besides, you can connect with a community of individuals struggling with depression and eating disorders. It can provide a safe space to share your experiences and feel supported by others on the same journey.
Depression and eating disorders are complex issues that can often be intertwined. They may emerge from the same underlying psychological issues and have similar triggers.
Treatment for depression and eating disorders should be tailored to the individual and may involve psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.
Therefore, everyone who wants to overcome their condition must seek professional help and create an individualized treatment plan to address all of the underlying issues.
Additionally, practicing self-care and connecting with a supportive community can help you on your journey to recovery!