Depression and Binge Eating Disorder

There are a lot of reasons to be depressed right now (smile)...but if you have binge eating disorder, food addiction or emotional eating, you may also struggle with depression and anxiety that can leave you feeling tired, isolated, anxious and on edge and...engaging in unwanted eating behaviors.  

The majority of studies show an association between binge eating, food addiction and emotional eating disorder and depression.

In some studies the association is between 84% and 100% of those with these eating disorders also having depression and anxiety.  Some studies focus on depressed mood in relationship to unwanted eating behaviors such as binging.  In other words, binging, food obsessions and body image issues can trigger or exacerbate depression and anxiety.  There are many types of depression, including one that is more common at this time of year.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that has a regular seasonal pattern.

During fall and winter seasons, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can affect individuals with eating disorders.  Symptoms can include: fatigue, pervasively sad mood, loss of interest in usual activities, eating more sweets and starches and trouble concentrating.  SAD is related to lack of exposure to sunlight during fall and winter, with January and February being the worst months for people with SAD.

The pandemic and other stressful current life experiences can have an impact on individuals with all forms of depression.

Stress associated with the pandemic, related lockdowns and restrictions and stressful current events is leading to more severe depression symptoms and the persistence of symptoms longer than usual.

Unwanted eating behaviors can be a symptom of depression.

Depression can take many forms.  In some cases, depression can induce or contribute to binge eating, food addiction and emotional eating.  It's hard to determine what comes first - the depression or the eating disorder.   Binge eating can result in depression because compulsively eating may cause you to:   feel out of control, be overwhelmed by disgust and feelings of disappointment in yourself.  

Depression itself may also trigger overeating as a way to cope with uncomfortable feelings.

One of the ways you can tell if you are eating because you're depressed is that you may compulsively overeat but never quite feel satisfied.  If depression is not treated, it can continue to fuel overeating behaviors and you may feel caught in a vicious cycle of overeating because you feel depressed and then feeling depressed because you have been binging.

Here are some ways to help with depression and overeating:
1. Don't judge yourself for binging or overeating.  Having behaviors doesn't make you a bad person.  Let go of your belief that you have to feel guilty in order to prevent the next binge.  Allow yourself to make a mistake without having to punish yourself.

2. Bust yourself on your food rules.  You may be like most people with binge eating disorder, food addiction or emotional eating in that you have  a long list of food rules.  These rules can take the form of making promises like "I need to be gluten-free to be healthy." Having food rules is the opposite of eating well.  

3. Give yourself permission to enjoy your food and to be curious about what you eat.  Instead of eating certain foods that you think you "should" eat (a food rule), think about what your body needs and wants.  Eat slowly and with attention - tasting every bite of food and then being aware of what the food feels like in your body.

Enjoying what you eat is the best way to reduce cravings.

When you eat foods you love and you enjoy what you're eating, your cravings will reduce.  Eating with enjoyment helps you also know how much to eat and when to stop eating so you're not overly full or not eating less than you need because you're counting calories or trying to lose weight.   This results in food just being food - not comfort, not a way to numb your feelings.  At that point, you will be experiencing the joy of eating well!

Eating well can help with depression and anxiety.

Even if you have a binge, it's important to continue eating regular meals rather than going into the vicious cycle of binging then restricting, etc.  Instead, shake off your latest binge, and prepare to eat well and mindfully for the next meals.  This will enable you to continue providing nutrients to your brain to make those feel good chemicals (serotonin, dopamine, etc.) that help with mood.

Secondly, physical activity is the quickest and best way to help with depression and anxiety. Physical activity is about self-care, NOT about punishing yourself or "whipping" yourself into shape. Learning to take care of yourself will provide you with the best approach to unwanted behaviors and depression and anxiety.

Respect your body's needs - for nourishing, good-tasting food, for rest and for body movement.
This is the work of recovery!

Dr. Carolyn

If you need help with binge eating, emotional eating, food addiction or depression associated with an eating disorder, schedule a free consult to discuss your individual food and body image issues:  

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