By Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C
From an outside perspective, someone’s desire to ‘hold onto’ their eating disorder may seem confusing.
However, we have to be mindful that eating disorder behaviors serve many functions for individuals (even though they make things worse in the long-term!).
Many individuals with eating disorders also struggling with co-occurring illnesses-which can include depression or bipolar disorder (as well as a host of others, but this article will focus on mood disorders specifically).
Often one function of eating disorder behaviors is an attempt to regulate emotions/mood.
As someone who previously struggled with an eating disorder & depression, I have experienced how difficult this combination can be firsthand.
The following are a few tips for those who are struggling with an eating disorder and a mood disorder.
1. Make sure that you are receiving treatment which addresses both the eating disorder and the mood disorder.
It’s crucial that if you are struggling with a mood disorder that you try to access treatment which addresses both. This can look like seeking help from a therapist who specializes in these areas.
Some individuals also find it to be helpful to be meeting with a psychiatrist and other allied treatment professionals who can help you to address the mood piece as well. There is no shame in taking medication to support your mental health. The same way that there is no shame in using an inhaler if have asthma.
Taking a holistic approach i.e. including gentle yoga (if you are cleared by your medical team and tx team to do so!), meditation, and other creative outlets that can help with both your mood and recovery is another option to consider.
2. Practice self-compassion.
I know it’s so hard and can feel unnatural in the beginning but beating yourself up for struggling will only serve to make you feel even worse.
You can’t hate yourself into healing.
Try to be kind to yourself. Struggling with an eating disorder is exhausting. Dealing with a co-occurring mental illness is also exhausting.
You are so strong for continuing to try to cope with both. Try to give yourself some credit for all of the effort that you are putting into recovery.
3. Recognize the link between restricting food and mood.
Restricting your food may provide a temporary high or numbing affect, but the impact on mood has been well documented.
Not eating enough for your energy needs can intensify your mood disorder and make things even worse in the long term.
Depression and bipolar disorder can also both impact appetite and may make it feel even harder to eat.
In How to Thrive, Expert Tips for Coping with Depression and an Eating Disorder, Nicole Cruz, RD, says, ‘recognize that depression is a change in brain chemistry and to keep the brain functioning at its optimal level we need to maintain appropriate nutrition. In other words, we don’t want to contribute more to the depression and negative thoughts due to low nutrient intake.
Cruz also states that, ‘carbohydrates are the primary source of energy to the brain and low carbohydrate diets are highly correlated with depression.'
It’s important to make sure that you are getting enough food and adequate nutrients in order to not worsen your mood disorder (and for ED recovery/overall well-being!).
The Bottom Line
It’s so hard to be dealing with the double whammy of an eating disorder and a mood disorder. You may even tell yourself-well what’s the point of working on recovery from an eating disorder if I’m still going to be depressed (or struggle with bipolar disorder)?
Both mood disorders and eating disorders are highly treatable and it’s far harder to address an underlying mood disorder when you are constantly battling eating disorder thoughts in your head.
Additionally, I know that there is often a pull to use eating disorder behaviors to gain a (false) sense of control when your mood feels out of control. However, ultimately the deeper you are in an eating disorder-the less 'in control' you actually become.
I know there might be part of you that wants to give up, but let this be a sign to keep taking small steps forward (chunking things down into smaller steps can be helpful for recovery).
I promise, it will be worth it.
Are you ready to find freedom?
Book your free 15 min consultation.
The Eating Disorder Center is a premier outpatient eating disorder therapy center founded by Jennifer Rollin. We specialize in helping teens and adults struggling with anorexia, binge eating disorder, bulimia, OSFED, and body image issues. We provide eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD, easily accessible to individuals in Potomac, North Potomac, Bethesda, Olney, Silver Spring, Germantown, and Washington D.C. We also offer eating disorder therapy virtually throughout California serving those in cities including Palo Alto, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Woodland Hills, San Jose, and Beverly Hills. We provide eating disorder recovery coaching via Zoom to people worldwide. Connect with us through our website at www.theeatingdisordercenter.com
The Eating Disorder Center
We are a premier outpatient eating disorder therapy center in Rockville, Maryland.