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Mental Health and Eating Disorders: How They Correlate

Victory Bay

Eating disorders are about so much more than food. Underlying symptomatology such as low self-esteem, past trauma, substance use or mental health symptoms play a critical role in the formation of an eating disorder and how they manifest. These can present as co-occurring disorders, or simply motivators towards eating disorder behaviors. 

What’s a co-occurring disorder? It’s defined as having two or more mental health disorders happening at one time. With eating disorders, co-occurring prevalence is high. According to a study done by the National Institute of Mental Health in 2017, approximately 56% of those with Anorexia, 95% of those with Bulimia, and 79% of those with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) met criteria for at least one other mental health diagnosis.  

More often than not, eating disorders will be directly targeted for treatment, as the symptoms are most obvious and come with serious medical risks, while secondary or co-occurring mental health disorders will be less targeted. Ask anyone working with those in ED recovery, and they’ll tell you this is a huge issue in the eating disorder recovery field. 

In order to adequately provide treatment to those suffering from an eating disorder, a treatment provider must go beneath the surface to understand the roots of ED behaviors. It’s also critical that those with an eating disorder receive psychoeducation around mental health disorders and other underlying symptoms that may present the origins of eating disorder symptoms.  

The following mental health conditions show a high prevalence with eating disorders: 

Anxiety Disorders 

One of the most common co-occurring conditions with eating disorders, anxiety is most well known for excessive worry that remains ever present even after stressors have been resolved. In order to be categorized as an anxiety disorder, it must show continued interference with a person’s ability to engage in everyday life, such as relationships and work. Eating disorders can provide the sufferer of an anxiety disorder with a sense of control over the anxiety, and be used as an unhealthy coping skill to alleviate anxiety symptoms. Anxiety and eating disorders go hand and hand, as both disorders can be categorized by a rigid belief system and sense of perfectionism while also building upon each other with ease.  

Depressive Disorders  

Much like anxiety disorders, depression and eating disorders go hand in hand. An eating disorder can occur as a means to control depression symptoms, or depression may occur as a side-effect of an eating disorder. Categorized by states of sadness, hopelessness, fatigue and changes in appetite, an eating disorder can play right into the hand of depression, making it hard to distinguish which should be targeted for treatment.  

Substance Abuse Disorders 

Eating disorders and substance use both represent a specific class of disorders in their behaviors representing an effort to cope with underlying symptoms in unhealthy ways. Substance use disorders have a specifically high prevalence with women, with research indicating that women with either disorder are 4x more likely to develop the other. Both of these disorders have high fatalities and are especially dangerous when combined.  

Obsessive-compulsive Disorder  

OCD is an anxiety disorder most known for intrusive thoughts and obsessions that are mitigated by compulsive behavior patterns. OCD and eating disorders work from the same framework of self-control and ruminating, unpleasant thoughts that affect daily functioning. In a study conducted in The OCD Newsletter in 2009, authors noted that eating disorder sufferers have significantly higher rates of developing OCD, and vice versa.  

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder  

The impacts of trauma affect physical, neurological, and psychological functioning. It can also be marked by a desire to avoid unwanted stimuli, which an eating disorder can provide relief from. Trauma survivors all can experience intense disconnection from their bodies and increased dissociative states, which also contributes to the development of an eating disorder.  

How do I find help? 

Don’t wrap yourself up in which disorder occurred first, but be sure to seek treatment for both. Treatment centers for both eating disorders and mental health conditions are well-versed in treating the root of symptoms.  

Additionally, be sure to advocate for well-rounded treatment that can address the roots of all disorders. Don’t be afraid to ask potential treatment providers about their capacity to address all your symptoms.  

Eating disorders are scary. They are complex and pose medical risks which can lead to long-term health consequences. If you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, please seek help as soon as possible. You do not need to suffer in silence or have continued disruption to your daily life. Give yourself a chance at life, and find help today.  

Recovery with Victory Bay

At Victory Bay we’re here to help you achieve a new life with a new start in recovery. To learn more about the variety of treatment programs we offer, including mental health, eating disorders, and substance use, contact us today by calling 855.239.5099.