6 Types of Eating Disorders
Depression and Eating Disorders
Eating disorders and depression are interrelated and complex illnesses that benefit from a comprehensive approach to treatment.
By Linda Parent
Medically Reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD
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As challenging as it is to treat depression, it becomes even more so when another complex illness takes hold at the same time. Studies have shown that a strong connection exists between depression and eating disorders. And the link is as complicated as the two illnesses: They may develop at the same time, or one can lead to the other.
Depression and Eating Disorders: Understanding The Link
Like depression, eating disorders are complicated illnesses. In addition to the eating behavior, there are also underlying psychological issues.
The problem may start because of the emphasis our society puts on thinness, on being model- or movie star-beautiful. Too often women judge themselves by how close they come to that ideal. Teens or young women in particular start dieting severely, in the hope of reaching what they think is the perfect body. Because they often have a poor self-image and feel they can never be too thin, the dieting pattern goes to extremes.
"There is no one cause of an eating disorder; rather, it is characterized by a preoccupation with food and a distortion of body image," says Basheer Lotfi-Fard, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at the McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University and Children's Memorial Hospital, in Chicago. The way patients see themselves is distorted, and they can get more and more emotionally caught up in their failure to reach the ideal they've set for themselves. Depression and anxiety become part of the picture.
Although depression and eating disorders are two separate illnesses, one condition can easily trigger the other. Overall, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that up to 75 percent of those with an eating disorder also suffer from depression or anxiety.
Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders
The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, or extreme dieting sometimes to the point of starvation, and bulimia nervosa, bouts of binging followed by forced vomiting. Some signs of these include:
- Bulimia.People with bulimia spend a lot of time in the bathroom with the water running (to camouflage the sound of vomiting) and may follow severe diets, yet may eat a lot at times, and may frequently use laxatives to "purge." Bulimics may be at a normal weight for their age and height.
- Anorexia nervosa.On the other hand, the anorexia nervosa sufferer may be emaciated, weighing significantly less than normal, and may mention missing her period (her body has stopped menstruating, a side effect). Often described as high achievers, these patients actually show signs of low self-esteem and complain about their weight being too high when it may be obviously below normal.
Treating Eating Disorders and Depression: A Comprehensive Approach
Because of the complex nature of the two illnesses, individualized treatment plans that address the unique problems of each patient have the best results; the eating disorder and the depression, anxiety, or substance abuse that is sometimes a factor can all be treated simultaneously. A psychotherapy approach called cognitive-behavioral therapy is often used to change the behaviors associated with each eating disorder.
For anorexia in particular, emphasis must be on getting the patient to gain weight as well as change both her eating habits and her thinking about food and her body image; there might be physical conditions caused by the anorexia that have to be treated as well, such as organ damage. As Dr. Lotfi-Fard notes, "Early treatment is imperative, as the annual mortality rate of young women with anorexia is 12 times higher than the general population."
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, a comprehensive medical team might include a physician, a nutritionist, and a mental health therapist. Treatments may involve medication, such as antidepressants, to target the depression and any other psychological factors that led to the eating disorder.
Many patients are effectively treated for the disorders, especially when the conditions are identified early on. If you are concerned about a loved one with an eating disorder and depression, don't hesitate to seek help. Ask your doctor or pediatrician for a referral to a psychiatrist or child psychiatrist.
Video: Dealing with Anxiety, Depression, Eating Disorders | My Story
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