The Connection Between Depression and Eating Disorders

Table of Contents

Did you know that 42.1 percent of individuals with anorexia also have a mood disorder like depression? For bulimia, that number changes to 70.7 percent, and for a binge eating disorder, 46.4 percent.  

These numbers tell us that mood disorders and eating disorders are not uncommon to encounter together.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder. Both depression and anxiety commonly co-occur with eating disorders. 

Some signs of depression include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep problems
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Overeating 
  • Undereating
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling of worthless, guilt, or helplessness
  • Feelings of intense sadness


There are various types of depression, including major depressive disorder, Seasonal affective disorder, situational depression, persistent depressive disorder, and more.

What Is An Eating Disorder?

When you think of an eating disorder, it’s easy to think of what you see in the media. For example, you might think of a girl who doesn’t eat or forces herself to throw up after she eats. 

While that can be a part of it, there is much more to it. There are several types of eating disorders that exist. 

In addition, the signs of an eating disorder will vary based on the type a person has. We’ll address three of the common types here.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia is one eating disorder that’s more well-known. Typically, you will see this disorder begin during the teenage years or young adulthood. 

With this disorder, the person affected often believes that they are overweight, even if they’re underweight. 

Individuals with anorexia will severely restrict calories, avoid certain types of food, and constantly monitor their weight. There are two subtypes of anorexia.

The first type is the restricting type. With this type of anorexia, the person will lose weight through excessive exercise, dieting, or fasting. 

The second type of anorexia is the binge eating and purging type. With this type of anorexia, the person will eat large amounts of food, or they might eat very little. However, after they do eat, they will purge. 

The symptoms of anorexia can look a little different depending on what subtype you have. However, some of the common symptoms include: 

  • Distorted body image
  • Unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight
  • Relentless pursuit of being thin
  • Intense fear of gaining weight (despite being underweight)
  • Very restricted patterns of eating
  • Considerably underweight in comparison to others the same age and height

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is another type of eating disorder that is more well known. This type also tends to develop during the teen years or young adulthood and is more common in women. 

Individuals with bulimia will often eat abnormally large amounts of food within a specific period of time. The person will binge eat until they are painfully full. 

Many people who binge will feel like they can’t stop or control how much they’re eating. Typically when binging, the person will choose foods they don’t frequently eat. 

After binging, a person with bulimia will try to purge in order to feel better and to counteract the calories they ate. This can be done through fasting, laxatives, diuretics, enemas, excessive exercise, and forced vomiting. 

The difference between bulimia and anorexia is that someone with bulimia will typically maintain a normal weight versus becoming underweight.

There are a few common symptoms of bulimia. These can include the following:

  • Recurrent binge eating episodes
  • Repeated instances of purging behaviors to prevent weight gain
  • Self-esteem is excessively influenced by weight and body shape
  • Fear of gaining weight, even though they are a normal weight

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is another common eating disorder. Similar to anorexia and bulimia, it often develops during adolescence or young adulthood. However, there is potential for it to develop later on as well. 

With this eating disorder, you will see the symptoms that are similar to the binge eating type of anorexia and to bulimia. They will experience episodes of binge eating where they eat a large amount of food in a short period of time. During this episode, they will feel that they are unable to control this behavior. 

The difference between binge eating and anorexia or bulimia is that the individual won’t restrict calories or use purging behaviors to help compensate for a binge.

There are some common symptoms of a binge eating disorder. One of the common symptoms is that the person will eat a large amount of food in secret and quickly. The individual will eat until they’re so full it’s uncomfortable, even though they don’t feel hungry.

Some other common symptoms include the following: 

  • Feeling a lack of control during binge-eating episodes
  • Feelings like shame, guilt, or disgust about the behavior
  • No use of purging techniques


Individuals with a binge eating disorder will often be overweight.

Eating Disorder Risk Factors

There are several risk factors associated with eating disorders. Some of these include: 

  • Family history
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Excessive dieting
  • Life transitions
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Psychological health

Does Depression Cause Eating Disorders?

Depression doesn’t cause an eating disorder. However, it can contribute to the development of one. 

When you have depression, it can be difficult to cope with the feelings you are experiencing. For some, they’ll find behaviors that can help them cope with their depression. 

Unfortunately, those behaviors are not always healthy.

What's the Connection?

There are a couple of factors that go beyond an individual choosing a maladaptive behavior to cope with their depressive symptoms. 

First, many people with depression experience feelings such as low self-worth. This is also a common feeling in individuals who develop an eating disorder.

This feeling can lead a person towards developing or maintaining an eating disorder. As they struggle with feelings surrounding their self-worth, they continue to engage in the same unhealthy behaviors to address them. 

Next, another symptom of depression can include appetite changes. These appetite changes can impact your relationship with food. Ultimately, this can lead to the development of an eating disorder.

What's The Treatment?

If you have depression and an eating disorder, it’s important that both conditions get treated. Neither diagnosis should take precedence, and both should get treated together. 

Because eating disorders can wreak havoc on your health, if an individual isn’t medically stable, that does need to get addressed first. Addressing medical issues will allow the person to get to a point where they are physically healthy enough to address their depression and their eating disorder. 

Once the person is physically stable, the psychological aspect can get addressed. 

The most common treatment for depression and eating disorders on the psychological side of things combines medication and therapy.

Medication

A variety of medications can be prescribed to help address the symptoms of depression. This could include SSRIs, SNRIs, and several other options. 

There are no medications that treat eating disorders. However, treating co-occurring mental health diagnoses with medication can help with symptoms like anxiety, sadness, low self-worth, and more. This gives the individual the ability to start working through the other psychological aspects in talk therapy.

Therapy

The next component of treating a co-occurring diagnosis of depression and an eating disorder is therapy. Talk therapy will help not only with depression but also with eating disorders. 

In therapy, you will work with a therapist to identify different factors that have contributed to your symptoms. By identifying these, you can then begin to learn new skills or behaviors that will help you to begin to change how you respond. 

Some of the factors you might look at include: 

  • Emotions
  • A lack of coping skills
  • Cognitions
  • Environmental circumstances


There are a few different types of therapy that have been shown to be effective in individuals with eating disorders and depression. Some of the types that can get used include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), family-based treatments, psychodynamic therapy, interpersonal therapies, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

What About After Treatment?

Unfortunately, individuals with eating disorders can relapse throughout their life. However, there are a few things that you’re able to do to help prevent relapse.

Know The Signs of Relapse

One of the important things is understanding the signs of relapse when it comes to an eating disorder. Some of those signs include: 

  • Checking weight frequently
  • Skipping meals or snacks
  • Exercising excessively
  • Feeling a need to be “perfect” 
  • Struggling with coping with stress
  • Feeling hopeless or sad
  • Wearing clothes that are loose-fitting
  • Worry about your weight, shape, or body image
  • Feeling the need to restrict food you enjoy
  • Avoiding the mirror
  • Looking in the mirror a lot
  • Avoiding friends and family
  • Spending a lot of time alone
  • Avoiding situations where there is food involved


Make sure that you know your triggers when it comes to relapse. If you’re able to identify your triggers, you will be able to identify appropriate ways to cope with those triggers.

Maintenance Treatment

If you feel like you’re struggling with your depression and struggling to not relapse, find treatment. Even after initial treatment, it’s important to continue treatment down the road. 

This can help you discuss things that come up with your counselor. In addition, follow the directions you are given regarding medication for your depression. Be open and honest with your doctor about how you’re feeling so that you can determine together whether your medication is working correctly.

Identify Your Support System

Who is part of your support system? Leverage your support system to help you.

This can be as simple as asking them to keep you accountable if they see signs. However, it can also include check-ins if you want. 

Make sure that the people who are a part of your support system know what you need from them.

Find A Support Group

You’re not alone. There are support groups available for individuals with eating disorders. 

There is also a helpline for eating disorders if you need someone to talk to. Identify these resources and use them as part of your support system.

Eat Snacks and Meals Regularly

Plan an eating schedule and stick to it. You shouldn’t go more than four hours without eating. 

Food impacts your mental health. Choosing healthy foods and sticking to a routine can improve your self-esteem, help your mood, and reduce symptoms of depression.

Make Time For You

Stress plays a big role in wellness. Take the time to take care of yourself. 

Whether it’s going to a support group, reading, getting a massage, taking a walk, or doing something else that helps you relax, make sure you’re practicing good self-care habits to manage your stress and stay healthy.

Get Help Today In Orange County, CA

Are you struggling with an eating disorder or depression? Or both? Get the help you need to become a healthier you. 

Enhance Health Group offers treatment for depression and eating disorders. Let us help you get started on your way back to help. Contact us today for more information.