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Understanding the Connection Between Eating Disorders and Depression

TMS Annapolis experts examine what happens when an eating disorder co-exists with depression

An eating disorder is a serious mental health condition that can severely impact one’s mental and physical well-being. Sometimes, one’s attempts to lose weight and control their eating spirals into a serious condition. Some people with an eating disorder have a history of depression. Other times, their eating disorder leads to depression. TMS Annapolis experts — Psych Associates of Maryland — examines this relationship in our latest article. 

Different Types of Eating Disorders

TMS Annapolis breaks down differences between eating disorders and their symptoms

young woman talking to mental health counselor

Symptoms will vary depending on the type of eating disorder you or your loved one might have. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. These orders often involve an unhealthy fixation on one’s weight and body shape. This can lead to dangerous eating behaviors that severely impact one’s health. 

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image. People with anorexia use excessive methods to lose weight such as severely limiting their caloric intake or following extreme exercise routines. Obsessive-compulsive symptoms such as constant thoughts about food are often present as well. This potentially life-threatening eating disorder typically affects women more than men and develops at a young age. 

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is another serious eating disorder that is marked by binge eating episodes followed by purging. During a binge eating episode, a person with bulimia will eat copious amounts of food within a specific time period until they become uncomfortably full. In order to relieve their discomfort or attempt to compensate for the calories they consumed, they will attempt to purge the food by vomiting, using laxatives, or engaging in excessive exercise. 

Binge Eating Disorder

People with binge eating disorder engage in recurrent binge eating without using unhealthy weight compensatory behaviors. These episodes occur on a regular basis. Someone with this disorder may eat alone out of embarrassment toward the amount of food they are eating and feel depressed after finishing an episode. 

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder usually develops at a young age. However, it can continue into adulthood. Unlike anorexia or bulimia, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder is equally common among both men and women. This disorder is characterized by highly restrictive eating habits that result in nutritional deficiencies. 

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder

A great number of people with eating disorders exhibit symptoms that do not fall under the aforementioned categories. As a result, they are diagnosed with Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED). People with OSFED present eating behaviors that cause significant distress or disruption in their everyday lives. 

Eating Disorders and Their Connection to Depression

Exploring the link between eating disorders and depression

female sitting on bed

Depression can sometimes a risk factor for eating disorders. Other times, patients develop depression as a result of their eating disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition, people suffering from anorexia and depression have a higher risk of committing suicide. 

So how can one trigger the other? One reason is that eating disorders can have a large impact on one’ mood. For instance, the undernourishment that results from them can cause negative mood shifts in the brain, which often leads to depression. On the other hand, having low self-esteem and a negative body image can also cause one to feel anxious and depressed. 

Overlapping Symptoms of an Eating Disorder and Depression

Symptoms of an eating disorder and depression can overlap. For instance, severe weight loss is a common symptom shared by both disorders. However, individuals with depression experience weight loss from a lack of appetite rather than a desire to lose an excessive amount of weight. 

Resources and Treatment Options for People Struggling with an Eating Disorder and Depression

TMS Annapolis counselors examine treatment options

woman speaking with mental health counselor

Because of the complexity in dealing with both an eating disorder and depression, physicians will typically design an integrative approach in order to effectively address both issues. Addressing only one of the disorders does not guarantee that the other disorder will suddenly disappear. Therefore, a treatment plan may include a combination of the following:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy — therapy designed to help patient understand the connection between their feeling and behaviors and learn how to change unhealthy thinking patterns 
  • Medication Management — a physician may prescribe antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications for patients
  • Nutritional Counseling — a dietician helps patients normalize eating and change their negative perceptions toward food through nutritional education and guidance
  • Hospitalization — in some cases, hospitalization may be necessary


If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental health disorder, the TMS Annapolis experts at Psych Associates of Maryland are here to help. Know that you are not alone in your battles with your mental health. Contact Psych Associates of Maryland today to schedule an appointment.

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