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More on Anxiety and Eating

Two great articles from Eating Disorder Hope (Eating Disorder Hope newsletter, vol. 25) give just that, hope for troubled eaters learning to manage anxiety and decrease their emotional, compulsive, and mindless eating.

In “Anxiety and overeating—what’s the overlap?” Jennifer Pells, PhD, tells us that “anxiety symptoms and disorders frequently co-occur with overeating and that studies have shown those with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) have a greater likelihood of experiencing significant symptoms of anxiety compared with the general population. I bet that many of you don’t realize that your major problem is an anxiety, not an eating, problem. Once you accept that, you can then treat the underlying anxiety which reduces unwanted eating. Pells points out, however, that comfort eating is accepted in this culture and that “it is not only those with BED who use food to cope with anxiety.”

She goes on to explain the correlation between chronic dieting and overeating, saying that “dieters are especially vulnerable to negative feelings about themselves, resulting in higher levels of anxiety and depression. To ‘escape’ from awareness of these thoughts and feelings, attention and cognition is focused instead on immediate, concrete stimuli, such as food. When anxious, individuals who struggle with emotional regulation will look for a fast, available method for decreasing the anxiety as quickly as possible, often choosing the short-term relief at the expense of long-term negative consequences.” Pell recommends these well researched approaches to reduce anxiety and improve coping: psychotherapy, self-help books and apps, and mindfulness meditation.

In “Eating disorders and anxiety in 2015,” Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPS says that “The most effective and empirically supported treatment for anxiety is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)…which provides tools to examine erroneous thoughts and conclusions about life events and offers new, more rational ways to perceive a situation.” Alter the perception and the meaning made of an event and your thoughts and feelings about it change automatically. CBT parlance calls this putting a different frame on the picture.

Most irrational thoughts come from over-personalizing, jumping to conclusions without evidence, overgeneralizing, and all-or-nothing thinking, all of which dysregulated eaters tend to do. By reframing thoughts, you reduce anxiety and, therefore, are less likely to eat mindlessly. My book, The Rules of “Normal” Eating,” is a useful primer in identifying irrational beliefs and turning them into rational ones. Do you have an anxiety problem?