• Programs for Eating Disorders

    Eating and Co-Occurring Anxiety Disorders

    We treat both eating and anxiety disorders. We can help you recover from your eating and anxiety disorders. When you call for help, we can recommend how to start!

    The Center for OCD & Anxiety-Related Disorders (COARD) at SLBMI is a nationally recognized treatment center and works closely with out Eating Disorder Program. We are able to offer specialized treatment for both eating disorders and anxiety, designing individualized, intensive treatment plans and coordinating treatment between both the eating disorder & anxiety specialty programs.

    Anxiety disorders frequently co-occur with eating disorders in as many as 75% of individuals with eating disorders. 1 When anxiety is present, eating disorder symptoms may be more frequent as well as more severe.  It is also the case that anxiety as a primary diagnosis may be associated with eating disordered behavior and loss of appetite without the body image concerns and fear of weight gain that is found in eating disorders.

    Anxiety symptoms commonly precede or originate at the same time as eating disordiStock_16142471XSmall_eating-and-co-occurring-anxiety-disorderser symptoms1 and may worsen following the onset of an eating disorder resulting in overall poorer social and adaptive functioning.  It is thought that childhood anxiety may be a risk factor or potential pathway to the development of eating disorders in some individuals.1 It may be that exposure to media images of the thin ideal, diet advertisements and even health class curriculums that emphasize the importance of weight management has a damaging impact on the development of an anxious adolescent.  Likewise, anxiety about social evaluation and criticism in a teen with preexisting social anxiety may lead to excessive concerns about appearance and weight.  Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and related personality traits, such as perfectionism and dichotomous “all or nothing” thinking, may also influence the development of eating disorders.

    The presence of anxiety also complicates recovery from eating disorders.  For example, anxiety may create an internal climate of increased aversion to change and cognitive narrowing or blocking of emotions.  Anxiety and associated avoidance behaviors may serve to stifle information about health risks of eating disorders.  Regulating eating behaviors or introducing new foods will likely be met with more resistance in an otherwise anxious individual and could lead to premature termination of therapy if not carefully treated.   It is also the case that eating disorder symptoms complicate recovery from anxiety.  A starved or poorly nourished brain is associated with rigid and intractable obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, even in cases with no pre-existing anxiety symptoms.  Before treatment can directly focus on anxiety, eating disorder behaviors must be under control and the body must be properly nourished and weight restored.  A healthy brain is required for corrective learning.  Active eating disorder symptoms may have a function of anxiety avoidance and serve to prevent the curative effects of exposure based anxiety treatments.  Therefore, effective treatment requires specialized intervention with both disorders. iStock_19030951_ExtraSmalleating-and-co-occurring-anxiety-disorders

    We are here to help.  At SLBMI, we can treat the whole individual and have specialized programs for when both eating and anxiety disorders present.

    Anxiety treatment is not as effective in someone who is nutritionally compromised and little benefit is expected until change in core ED symptoms is achieved. Therefore, we often begin treatment within our Eating Disorder Program and then reassess the benefit of more focused or intense anxiety treatment once a client has gained weight, significantly reduced purging, and is eating regularly for an established period of time.

    • The initial focus of eating disorder treatment is behavioral change.  However, we recognize that changes in eating disorder behaviors can exacerbate anxiety disorders.

    • Therefore, we find that anxiety intervention is a critical component of our treatment at early stages of recovery, which serves also to lay the groundwork for later therapy.

    If you or someone you love has co-occurring eating and anxiety systems, let us help individualize a plan for effective recovery from both conditions!  Call today and set up an evaluation at 314-289-9411.

    1  Swinbourne, J.M. and Touyz, S.W. (2007)  The Co-Morbidity of Eating Disorders and Anxiety Disorders:  A Review.  European Eating Disorders Review, 15, 253-274.