Binge Eating and Depression: How They “Feed” on Each Other
Melissa knows she is depressed. She finds it difficult to get out of bed, and she sleeps too much. She tells her mother it feels like she’s living inside a storm cloud. At the center of all her bad feelings is eating.
The problem first appeared when she was about fourteen. The picture she had in her mind of what girls were supposed to look like didn’t match what she saw in the mirror. She felt lonely. Each new diet left Melissa feeling tired and deprived; she’d start eating to feel better. Once she started eating, she felt powerless to stop. Afterward, Melissa felt worse than ever. “Why can’t I control myself?” she thought.
If you’ve suffered through episodes of binge eating, you know the feelings of shame and embarrassment that follow; but depression probably contributes to binge eating in the first place. So what does it mean for you if depression precedes emotional eating, and overeating precedes depression?
If, like Melissa, you feel angry and upset with yourself, it might be time to let yourself off the hook. A problem with binge eating was never your preference; complex psychological and social pressures shaped the way you see yourself in relation to food.
The years you spend with binge eating and depression act like the pillars beneath a bridge, strengthening the roads you use in your brain to determine your perceptions and behaviors. In other words, breaking free of the cycle of depression and eating isn’t just a matter of eating healthy or going for a walk each day—you need time to change those perceptions and behaviors. You need time to build new roads.
So how exactly are binge eating and depression related?
A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that teenagers who reported feeling depressed were twice as likely to binge eat. Additionally, teens who binge ate regularly were twice as likely to be at risk for depression. Other studies have shown that as many as half of the people who experience eating disorders also experience depression.
The link between eating uncontrollably and feeling bad about life makes sense: both binge eating and depression are characterized by self-directed negative feelings. Depression-related binge eating problems can look like perfectionism in your life; you might feel like you’re just not good enough. When you think about binge eating in this way—as a way to feel differently about your situation—it becomes clear that it’s more about what’s going on with you emotionally, and less about the actual food.
Torn between the two platforms of wanting to numb the pain, and wanting to feel good about yourself, you end up on the tracks.
Can I break free?
While it might sound overwhelming that binge eating and depression latch onto each other, it makes understanding overeating a little easier. The connection also makes the path to getting better more clear cut: in order to change your relationship to food, you’ll need to sift through and learn how to manage the pain and hurt you’ve felt in your life.
One of the hardest—yet most rewarding—parts of overcoming depression and binge eating is learning to feel good about who you are now. Breaking free of the negative cycle will be much easier with help. In most cases, changing the way you see yourself works best when you’re able to sort through it all with a professional counselor. Getting better might mean trying an antidepressant, or it might mean shedding light on your past.
Counseling for Binge Eating and Depression
- Individual Therapy – binge eating is often a symptom of an imbalance, unmet need or habit that developed as a coping strategy. Therapy can help you identify your unique relationship with food and ways to heal and overcome binge eating and depression.
Read more about binge eating disorder.
Read more about depression treatment.
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