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What to Know About the Role of Anxiety in Eating Disorders

There are a variety of factors that come into play when it comes to what causes eating disorders. Some people fall into the trap of wanting a sense of control. Others start out wanting to lose weight and spiral out of control. 

But, eating disorders aren’t often talked about enough for what they really are — a mental health condition. As such, it’s understandable that there’s some overlap between them and other mental health issues, including anxiety. 

Almost everyone experiences anxiety sometimes. But, it becomes a problem when it takes over your life and impedes your ability to get through the day doing normal tasks. When anxiety controls everything, you’re at a greater risk of developing an eating disorder to cope with your stress and struggles. 

What Are the Risk Factors?

Of course, not everyone with anxiety is going to develop an eating disorder. A lot of it has to do with environmental factors, including what’s triggering your anxious thoughts. However, you might be more susceptible than others if you check off a few specific risk factors. People with OCD, perfectionism, and those who are “over-thinkers” might be more likely to develop an eating disorder because of anxiety.

Again, an eating disorder — especially anorexia — can give you a sense of control. So much so that it quickly becomes an obsession. You might count every calorie to stay beneath a certain number each day. Or, you might become so obsessed with exercise that you’re physically active for hours each day.

For some, eating disorders are a coping mechanism to deal with overthinking and worry. Unfortunately, they’re an unhealthy way of getting through things that will only end up doing more harm than good. 

silhouette of a person standing on a dock over waterA Vicious Cycle

Eating disorders foster a false sense of control. They can become addictive in nature, creating even more anxiety as they start to control everything you do. 

You might start out feeling anxious about other things in life. But it won’t take long before your disordered eating habits are the things causing you more stress and fear. You might become anxious about counting calories — not knowing how many are in a dish you’re eating. 

You could develop social anxiety. So many social gatherings and events center around food, whether there are snacks available or you’re getting together with loved ones for a meal. Your anxiety could peak before these events because you feel like you’re losing control over what you’re eating. 

People with binge eating disorder also tend to become more anxious immediately before a binge and immediately after. 

Unfortunately, the more anxious you are, the more you’ll try to keep these behaviors going to find temporary relief. 

What Can You Do?

While eating disorders and anxiety do overlap, they are two separate conditions. As such, they should be treated differently. Because eating disorders can impact your physical health, it’s important to work with a doctor to create a treatment plan that can help you get physically well again. 

But it’s even more important to get to the source of the issue. Therapy is often a great way to get to the root cause of your anxiety. You might have to start from the ground up, and it’s not always easy to learn where your anxiety stems from. But, once you know, you’ll have the opportunity to regain control rather than relying on an unhealthy coping mechanism. 

Therapy can also help you manage the symptoms of your eating disorder, offering healthy ways of coping with anxiety and stress that will actually help you overcome those issues. 

Don’t wait to get the help you deserve if your anxiety has triggered disordered eating. Reach out for anxiety therapy or eating disorder therapy as soon as possible, and you’ll discover safe, healthy ways to manage your mental health.