Labeling Your Problems
Most of my clients who have eating problems also suffer from underlying depression or anxiety. Although they readily acknowledge that their relationship with food is way off the mark, some shy away from either acknowledging their depression or getting treatment for it. Sad, because all of these problems are inextricably linked together.
Why is it easier/more acceptable/more comfortable to say you have problems managing your relationship with food, than to admit, “I have depression”? One reason is that almost everyone seems to have some difficulties with food these days—they’re fussy about eating only organic, they struggle to lose those last five pounds, or battle with themselves about excess snacking. Even people who don’t have serious food issues may think they weigh too much and gripe that they’re out of shape.
Compare that to how people who have depression view their condition. Yes, folks with eating problems often feel shame, but generally not to the extent that many who have depression do. There’s still the association between depressive disorder and mental illness, still the sense of defectiveness and societal condemnation “to just get over” your sadness or apathy or fatigue and get on with life. Depression is often viewed as a more pathological disorder than eating problems which are seen as superficially behavioral.
This contrast reminds me of how addicts I worked with at a methadone clinic overwhelmingly seemed more comfortable labeling themselves as addicts than as depressed, anxious, bi-polar, etc. They thought that being an addict was more of a societal failing that could change if they overcame their cravings, while being depressed was an unacceptable personal failing that would stay with them forever. I often heard addicts say that they’d rather think of themselves as chemically dependent than “crazy.” Odd, since, both addiction and depression (and food problems) are all interconnected biochemically. The fact is, a substantial amount of food/drugs/alcohol dysfunction is due to the same chemical imbalance that causes depression and anxiety.
It’s interesting that so many people ask for my help for their eating problems, but avoid seeking professional counsel for depression or anxiety. For those of you who suffer from both a food and mood disorder, which do you consider more shameful? For those of you who accept your food problems but are uneasy about the possibility of having concurrent depression, what will it take for you to acknowledge this fact and get an assessment and, if needed, treatment as well? Please, get help if you need it.