Anxiety and Eating Disorders

A 2004 study reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry examined the relationship between anxiety and eating disorders in 672 people with anorexia, bulimia, or both disorders. The study participants were evaluated in terms of anxiety, perfectionism, and obsessive behavior using a diagnostic interview based on the DSM-IV criteria. The results of the study showed that approximately two-thirds of those who had an eating disorder also suffered from an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives and that around 42% had developed an anxiety disorder during childhood, well before the onset of their eating disorder.

What Are Anxiety Disorders?

Those who suffer from eating disorders frequently convey that their anxiety is centered on fears of criticism, embarrassment or humiliation when they are in public or social situations. Individuals who suffer from eating disorders are troubled with negative thoughts, either from their own perceived imagination, or how they perceive that others feel about them.

Eating disorders can often be diagnosed in the same people who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). Some of the symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder appear similar to the behaviors of eating disorders. Fear of eating in public is a symptom common in both Social Anxiety Disorder and eating disorders, but the behaviors and underlying motivations are not quite the same.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) which is another type of anxiety disorder, is often the most common anxiety disorder that is found to co-occur in individuals who suffer from disordered eating behaviors. Individuals who suffer from both of these disorders are prone to developing compulsive rituals connected to food, such as weighing every amount of food, cutting it into tiny pieces, or even binge eating.

The odds of developing bulimia are greater for women with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder.

These are just a few of the specific types of anxiety disorders that may present prior or in conjunction with the development of an eating disorder.

What Causes Anxiety?

Information provided by Eating Disorder Hope states that there are a variety of factors that may cause anxiety, such as environmental, genetics, physiological, neurological, substance abuse, or a combination of these. Examples of some of these factors that may contribute to the development of anxiety are:

  • Traumatic Events, such as a history of abuse or death of a loved one
  • Relational Stress
  • Side effects from medication
  • Withdrawal from an illicit drug
  • Family history of anxiety disorders
  • Hormonal imbalances

When individuals struggle with severe anxiety, being able to control an aspect of one’s life, such as food, weight, and exercise, can indirectly give the sufferer a false sense of control. This can temporarily relieve the symptoms experienced due to anxiety. These learned behaviors however, can inadvertently lead to the individual developing eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia.

Anxiety Signs and Symptoms

The warning signs associated with anxiety fall into four basic categories which are: emotional, physical, behavioral, and cognitive. Although everyone experiences anxiety in their own way, or with a combination of various symptoms, it is important to be able to recognize what they are. The signs and symptoms to look for are:

Physical Effects:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest Pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Muscle weakness

Emotional Effects:

  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Feelings of tension or dread

Behavioral Effects:

  • Alteration in sleeping patterns
  • Nervous habits
  • Withdrawal from situations

Cognitive Effects:

  • Persistent thoughts regarding alleged dangers
  • Obsessive thoughts about perceived fears

We Can Help

Recovery from eating disorders is possible. It’s happening every day at The Meadows Ranch. For additional information about the treatment of eating disorders, please call to speak to an Admissions Specialist and we will contact you with the information you need.

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