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The co-occurrence of an eating disorder and anxiety disorders are much more common than most people think.  Eating disorders are categorized as conditions in which a person is preoccupied with their body weight and eats either more or less than is healthy.  Being consumed with the thought of food, rather than simply consuming food, is a hallmark of an eating disorder.  Over-eating and under-eating are two of the major disorders.  The inability to stop eating leads some down a road of rapid weight gain to the extent that they are emotionally and, sometimes physically, trapped at home.  At the other end of the spectrum are people who restrict their food intake excessively, to the point of causing medical problems due to nutritional deficiencies.

Normal, healthy adults will feel fear, dread and worry in response to a stressor.  However, when these feelings are prevalent most of the time, there is a good chance this person suffers from an anxiety disorder.  Anxiety is defined as feeling these normal responses to the point of being incapacitated by them, often intimidated by even the simplest task or thought.  Often, anxiety about one’s self image sets the trap for the anxious person feeling body-conscious or worried about food or around meal times.  At this point, it is easy for someone to associate their general anxiety with food and develop an eating disorder such as anorexia, in which not enough nourishment is taken in, or bulimia nervosa, in which food is eaten and then secretly regurgitated, or a binge eating disorder, in which the person finds him or herself unable to discontinue eating at the point of being full. In all cases, the eating disorder and anxiety are related and contribute to one another.  The co-occurrence of an eating disorder and anxiety disorder may be referred to as co-occurring or dual diagnosis disorders.

Anxiety disorders are common, affecting as many as 18 percent in any given year.  Common examples of anxiety disorders are obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social phobia, specific phobias, and generalized anxiety disorder. About one percent of Americans are reported to have suffered with anorexia nervosa, the classic under eating disorder,  about three percent suffer from an over eating disorder, and one percent of all Americans have a lifetime history of bulimia nervosa, the regurgitation of food after eating for the purpose of weight loss.

How does one know if anxiety contributes to an eating disorder?  Nervousness around meal-times, secrecy about food, and a feeling of dread concerning food are signs that an eating disorder may be present. Being unable to stop thinking about food, being overly concerned with body-image and having these feelings interfere with your ability to enjoy and participate in life are indications that a person may be suffering from an eating disorder.   It is normal to feel anxiety when something requires immediate attention, but when that stressor is food itself, the person affected might need help to face their eating disorder and anxiety about food.

The root of the eating disorder and anxiety disorder usually relates to an insecurity about one’s self-image.  Typically these are long standing issues.  Fortunately, there is now an Intensive Outpatient Program in Memphis, TN that has been proven to be effective in the treatment of eating disorders and anxiety disorders.   Our programs provide services to those who need more treatment than one hour a week, but less than 24 hour care, by providing three hours of treatment per day, three to five days per week, in an intensive outpatient setting.  If you or a loved one is showing signs of eating disorder and anxiety, they should be assessed by a trained mental health professional who can help design a treatment plan that can result in recovery.  Treatment for eating disorders can be highly successful.  Call us at 901-682-6136 to schedule an appointment.