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Anxiety and Eating Disorders

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States; they affect 40 million adults and one in eight children in any given year. They also commonly co-occur with eating disorders. In fact, two-thirds of people with an eating disorder also have an anxiety disorder, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety disorder. Anxiety often begins to appear during childhood or adolescence and typically precedes the eating disorder.

We know eating disorders are not just about food and body image; the disordered eating and exercise habits may develop as a way to soothe anxiety and any other underlying psychiatric conditions. Food intake and exercise are two things a person can control when other areas of life feel out of control. However, it quickly turns into a vicious cycle because the eating disorder causes even more anxiety.

Symptoms of Anxiety

An anxiety disorder is more than feeling nervous. People with these disorders experience:

  • Overwhelming feelings of panic, fear or dread
  • Uncontrollable obsessive thoughts
  • Painful, intrusive memories
  • Recurring nightmares
  • Anticipating the worst; always watching out for danger
  • Feeling restless or irritable
  • Physical symptoms can include: feeling sick to your stomach or feeling “butterflies”, pounding/racing heart, startling easily, headaches, sweating, muscle tension, fatigue and insomnia
Treatment

There isn’t a known cause for eating disorders, but the National Eating Disorders Association says that a combination of biological, psychological, social and interpersonal factors come into play. Although eating disorders are serious conditions, they are treatable. The most effective treatment is psychotherapy along with nutritional counseling and close monitoring by a medical doctor. Medications may also be used to treat co-occurring disorders. Treatment needs to addresses the symptoms of the eating disorder directly as well as the underlying that contribute to causing and maintaining the disorder. It’s important to know the symptoms of different eating disorders in order to seek treatment in the earliest stages.

Eating Disorder Treatment at Silver Hill

The Eating Disorders Treatment Program at Silver Hill Hospital treats adolescents and adults, male and female, who are struggling with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, body dysmorphia, orthorexia, and rumination disorder. Since Silver Hill is a psychiatric hospital, the program is fully equipped to treat patients who present with co-occurring psychiatric problems, including mood and anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorders, and personality disorders. Addressing the co-occurring disorder(s) is critical part of a successful recovery.

Resources
  • National Eating Disorders Association
  • “100 Questions and Answers About Anorexia Nervosa” by Sari Sheppird
  • “Life Without ED: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too” by Jenni Schaefer
  • “Binge No More: Your Guide to Overcoming Disordered Eating” by Joyce Nash
  • “Next to Nothing: A Firsthand Account of One Teenager’s Experience with an Eating Disorder” by Carrie Arnold

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