Anxiety and Eating Disorders

anxiety & eating disorders

The Common Link Between Anxiety and Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders and Anxiety Disorders often occur in partnership with one another. Recent research suggests that as many as two-thirds of those suffering from Eating Disorders also have a co-occurring Anxiety Disorder. 

What is Anxiety? 

Anxiety is a term that encompasses feelings of nervousness, fear, worry, and dread. The American Psychiatric Association defines anxiety as “a normal reaction to stress, which can also be beneficial in some situations. It can alert us to dangers and help us prepare and pay attention.” Anxiety disorders differ from normal feelings of nervousness or anxiousness, which typically involve excessive fear, worry, or dread. 

Anxiety disorders are the most common psychological disorders that affect nearly 30 percent of adults at some point in their lives. Anxiety Disorders, along with Eating Disorders, have proven evidence-based treatment outcomes, which can help those in suffering lead normal productive lives.

There are a variety of Anxiety Disorders, which can appear isolated or co-occurring with other psychological disorders, including Eating Disorders. Common Anxiety Disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Symptoms of constant worry, restlessness, and trouble with concentration
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD): Tremendous fear of social situations
  • Panic Disorder: Intense feelings of fear or panic occur without warning
  • Specific Phobias: Anxiety occurs around a particular person, event, or object
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Obsessive thoughts that lead to repetitive behaviors

Research suggests that anxiety has a genetic component in which an individual’s family history can determine the likelihood of developing an Anxiety Disorder. In contrast, anxiety can occur as a result of traumatic events, unstable relationships, and lack of adequate nourishment, just to name a few. It is important to note that anxiety affects the body both physically and psychologically, and also may be difficult to manage without appropriate guidance and care.

The connection between anxiety and eating disorders

As mentioned previously, Eating Disorders and Anxiety Disorders often occur in partnership with one another. According to the Journal of Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 90% of women suffering from Anorexia Nervosa and 94% of women suffering from Bulimia Nervosa, were diagnosed with a preceding Anxiety Disorder. When suffering from debilitating anxiety and eating disorders, individuals may feel an increased impulse to control one’s life through food, weight, dieting, and exercise. This immediate gratification can temporarily relieve anxiety symptoms, but typically elicits a false sense of control. This pattern of avoidance continues to exacerbate the disordered eating patterns and also learned behaviors to cope with anxiety. Research has shown the best course of treatment involves evidence-based care that treats both the Eating Disorder and Anxiety Disorder,

Evidence-based Treatment for Eating Disorders and Anxiety Disorders

Comprehensive, evidence-based treatment considerations including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) have shown great recovery results with clients suffering from Eating Disorders and co-occurring Anxiety Disorders. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on challenging negative thoughts distortions and behaviors, while also improving emotion regulation and allocating healthy coping skills to target current problems. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) focuses on teaching skills to stay in the present moment, regulate emotions, tolerate distress, and improve interpersonal relationships. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) combines mindfulness-based techniques along with self-acceptance skills to embrace psychological flexibility. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) has been proven highly beneficial with those suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). ERP encourages individuals to face their fears and allow obsessive thoughts to occur without neutralizing with compulsions. This gives the individual the power and understanding that they can gradually, and most often, completely alleviate anxiety by repeatedly being faced with the feared stimulus.  

Care at Magnolia Creek

At Magnolia Creek, we provide quality, customer-driven care by utilizing evidence-based practices in partnership with a customized care plan to identify treatment goals in support of long-term sustainable recovery. Our dedicated team of experts makes clear recommendations for the level of care and length of treatment based on the individual. Our programs offer flexibility, and our treatment plans are designed to understand each individual need. Our focus at Magnolia Creek is to address the underlying issues and support long-term recovery, so our clients can renew, restore, and recover from eating disorders. We believe the combination of a unique step-down approach and multidisciplinary therapies in a homelike setting is the best path for sustained recovery.

If you or someone you know is suffering from an Eating Disorder, look no further. We are here and we are ready to help. Call our Admission Team with One Call, Many Solutions at 205-409-4220.


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