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The Link Between Eating and Mood Disorders

Considerations for treatment and recovery.

Key points

  • When depression causes a loss of appetite, this adds a layer of challenge to eating disorder recovery.
  • Some people living with bipolar disorder may use eating disorder behaviors as a way to cope when their moods are unpredictable.
  • When a mood disorder and an eating disorder co-occur, treatment needs to focus on both.

Eating disorders and mood disorders, such as depression or bipolar disorder, often co-occur. I have a lot of experience working with clients who struggle with both, and there are some important considerations when it comes to treatment and recovery.

Eating disorders and depression

Living with an eating disorder and depression is exhausting. Depression can impact motivation for recovery and it can also impact appetite. When depression is causing a loss of appetite, this adds another layer of challenge to eating disorder recovery.

Restricting food and not getting enough nutrition to meet your energy needs can also serve to increase feelings of depression.

In How to Thrive, Expert Tips for Coping with Depression and an Eating Disorder by Jennifer Rollin, 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."

Quality treatment focuses on both the depression and the eating disorder. When you’re in a depressive episode it can feel hopeless, like it will last forever. Both depression and eating disorders tell a whole bunch of lies, so it's important to have a skilled therapist to help you to challenge unhelpful thinking patterns.

Eating disorders and bipolar disorder

Depression, hypomania, and mania can all impact appetite, which can add a layer of challenge to eating disorder recovery.

Additionally, while it’s so important to note that eating disorders are not choices—often they are in part a coping strategy and for some a way to feel a (false) sense of control. Living with bipolar disorder can feel very out of control, so it makes sense that eating disorder behaviors may for some be attempts to try to regain a (false) sense of control when their mood is unpredictable.

While bipolar disorder never goes away, it can be effectively managed. Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible.

The bottom line

There is hope. It’s possible to reclaim your life and live according to your true values.

Both mood disorders and eating disorders are highly treatable, but it's much harder to address an underlying mood disorder when you are constantly battling eating disorder thoughts in your head. That's why it’s so critical to work with a therapist who has experience with eating and mood disorders if you are struggling.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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