In the US, 40 million people deal with an anxiety illness every year. With more than 18% of the population affected, anxiety disorders are by far the most prevalent mental illness in the nation. These include afflictions like panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and particular phobias.
Genetics, personality, life events, and various other factors can all contribute to the development of anxiety disorders. Even though anxiety is a problem in and of itself, it is frequently linked to other illnesses. They are also the most frequently co-occurring mental illness with conditions like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and eating disorders.
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Although anxiety can be a mental health issue on its own, it is also linked to undesirable eating-related habits and health outcomes. The relationship between anxiety and weight problems, obesity, and a number of other eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating, has been well documented.
The link between Anxiety and Eating Behaviour
There is a considerable link between anxiety and eating disorders. Disordered eating habits are typical anxiety signs. Even though not everyone with anxiety will end up with an eating issue, the likelihood is higher.
Bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and binge eating disorder are the three major eating disorders, and research has frequently linked them. What supports the link between eating disorders and anxiety? How are comorbid conditions treated differently?
Anxiety and eating disorders
According to studies from the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders and eating disorders frequently co-occur. Adults with binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, and 47.9% of those with anorexia nervosa all have at least one co-occurring anxiety illness.
The most frequent co-occurring anxiety disorders are post-traumatic stress disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. These aren’t merely people who occasionally experience a bit of stress. People who co-occur with eating disorders and anxiety go through severe anguish and disruption in their life.
Anorexics with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are thought to comprise 69% of the population. In 34% of people, social anxiety disorder is present. Between 24 and 31% of people with binge eating disorder or anorexia nervosa also have a generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). 8% of individuals with binge eating problems also have GAD. 25% of people with eating disorders also have post-traumatic stress disorder.
Why are the comorbidity rates between these illnesses so high? What is the link between eating problems and anxiety?
Link Between Problematic Eating Behaviors and Anxiety
Eating disorders are chronic illnesses. They frequently start and then stop to give themselves a sense of control. But losing control of atypical food and exercise habits is simple once a habit sets in. As time passes, these behaviours become more compulsive, making it harder to stop them.
What is the correlation between eating disorders and anxiety? Do people have an eating disorder first and an anxiety disorder later on, or do problematic eating practices lead to anxiety?
Most eating problems appear to begin in adolescence when adolescents start to notice disparities in physical appearance. One study found that worrying about one’s looks in public was a trigger for the emergence of eating disorder symptoms. Anxieties and worries of social rejection or ostracism significantly influence the emergence of disordered eating patterns. Additionally, malnutrition might make anxiety worse.
When someone uses food as a coping mechanism due to anxiety, this can lead to disordered eating. A higher chance of developing a binge eating disorder or bulimia nervosa exists in people who use food as a coping mechanism for worry, discomfort, or stress. Large meal portions can temporarily reduce anxiety, but as time goes on, the condition only gets worse.
So what is the treatment for eating disorders and associated anxiety? Should treatment begin with addressing the anxiety condition since it appears to be a risk factor for developing an eating disorder? What constitutes a successful treatment plan for these co-occurring disorders?
Treatment for Problematic Eating Behaviours
There is no denying the link between anxiety and disordered eating. One cannot be treated without the other, and vice versa. Disordered eating patterns are influenced by anxiety brought on by pressure from society and one’s own self-image. When everything else feels out of control, an eating disorder offers a sense of control.
The complexities of treating comorbid anxiety and eating disorders are well-understood by eating disorder treatment institutions. Clinicians are prepared to work with patients since they are aware of the complicated relationships between illnesses.
Different types of therapy can be beneficial for treating disordered eating. Three therapies target the ideas that frequently underlie disordered eating behaviours: dialectical behaviour therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy.
You might believe that treatment should begin with addressing anxiety because eating disorders appear to be caused by anxiety. However, doctors cannot treat one illness without also considering the other. It’s impossible to distinguish between the two because they are closely related. Therefore, treatment for anxiety and eating disorders must address both issues together.