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Consumed by the need to work out and lose weight? Does your eating disorder interfere with your relationships, social and/or professional life?

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Have you tried every diet? Frustrated with your results? Want to finally make peace with food?

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Anxiety and Eating Disorders

Types of anxiety

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common types of mental health disorders in the U.S. They affect up to 18% of the U.S. Population. There are several different kinds of anxiety disorders including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and generalized anxiety disorder. In this post, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) will be discussed.  GAD affects approximately 3.1% of the population. Women are more likely to experience GAD than men.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

We all experience worry from time to time. It is normal to feel anxious before a test, a job interview or other big events. Normally, after the event, like a first date for example, the worry disappears.  Generalized anxiety disorder is different.   It consists of persistent & pervasive worry. It affects most aspects of life including occupation or school, relationships, sleep patterns, etc.

Adults with anxiety, experience persistent & general feelings of dread, distress, and agitation with no apparent cause. The sufferer struggles, on a regular basis, with making decisions, falling asleep and concentrating.  Furthermore, the physical symptoms of anxiety include muscle tension, restlessness, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea & irritable bowel syndrome and headaches.

Anxiety is sneaky.   The worry can feel normal.   In other words, often times people don’t realize that they are feeling more worried than others until it is pointed out to them.  Anxiety is exhausting.  Your mind is flooded with worries most of the time.  It can erode your self-esteem and confidence.

The Anxiety and Eating Disorder Connection

Studies have shown up to 65% of people with eating disorders also have an anxiety disorder (generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder & social anxiety). In most cases, the anxiety disorder is a pre-cursor to the eating disorder.  Often, the eating disorder is used to help manage the anxiety disorder. It makes sense right? Trying to control weight, food and exercise has the illusion that one can thwart off worries. The eating disorder gives the suffer something to focus on instead of the worries (although the worry remains).

What to do if you think you have anxiety:

    1. First off, have hope. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable.
    2. Seek professional treatment. Just like eating disorders, anxiety disorders, usually don’t go away on their own.
    3. Seek treatment for both the anxiety and the eating disorder. Both can be treated at the same time.
    4. There are lots of effective talk therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy to reduce symptoms of anxiety. In some cases, medications can help, too. In conjunction with these treatments, mindfulness & meditation, are also used.

Do you think you have anxiety and live in the Austin area?  Please contact me for a free phone consultation at (512) 293-5770.

Alison Pelz a psychotherapist and has been a registered dietitian for over 16 years specializing in the treatment and prevention of body image disturbance, eating disorders, and other fitness and weight-related concerns. She is a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. Currently, she maintains a private practice in Austin, TX.

Food Addiction: Feeling out of control with food There is a lot of controversy around food addiction…

Among clinicians, there is much debate if food addiction is a bonafide diagnosis. Some believe absolutely food can be addictive. In fact, science shows that our brains are activated in the same way it is with drugs when we eat highly palatable, good tasting food.

People who describe themselves as food addicts have a compulsive drive to eat, even when they are not hungry.  Eating, perhaps, to soothe emotions or to “check-out”.  Short-term overeating feels good. But, long-term it can feel pretty uncomfortable.  There is a sense of loss of control described by people who feel like they are food addicts. Furthermore, attempts to stop overeating are made, but with little success. Sounds similar to drug or alcohol addiction, right?

We need food to stay alive, unlike drugs or alcohol.

This is a primary reason that is cited by those who don’t believe we can be addicted to food. Furthermore, our brains may become activated similarly to drugs & alcohol when we eat certain foods, as a reward pathway. By design, we get pleasure from eating so we will seek out more food (to sustain us).

Additionally, most people who feel out of control with food are able to stop eating or ignore foods that is less appealing.  Most people who struggle with drug addiction, for example, consume all drugs until they are gone.  Not so with food.

If you are reading this, whether you think food addiction is a valid term or not, my guess is that you feel out of control with food. You may not buy certain foods fearing that you will eat it all in one sitting or over a day or two.  Or maybe you plan to buy certain foods just to binge on them. Or you buy certain foods and promise yourself that you will not binge on them, like you have in the past.  Food is often consumed in solitude.  Guilt and shame are feelings often experienced with having a loss of control with food.

What to do if you feel like you are addicted to food:

  1. Seek professional help. Binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders all have a component of loss of control with food. If you have an eating disorder you will need a treatment team to help you heal from your eating problems.  If you don’t meet the criteria for a full-blown eating disorder professional help is still warranted to help with your eating problem.
  2. Don’t try to diet your way out of your eating problem. Dieting makes the problem worse and is a risk factor for developing a full-blown eating disorder. My guess is that if you are reading this you have tried several diets in the past with short-term success (please click here to learn why diets fail).
  3. Do read self-help books such as Intuitive Eating. Studies show that self-help or supported self-help (with a counselor) can be effective at treating some eating problems (not eating disorders, however).

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Who doesn’t want to be perfect, right?  What’s wrong with perfectionism? We all want things to go well for ourselves in our career & school and personal lives.  Setting high standards can lead to high achievement.

Perfectionism, on the other hand, is striving for things to be perfect in most aspects of life, all of the time.  And when things don’t go perfect, as things often don’t in life, the person who suffers from perfectionism is self-critical and blaming.   This self-criticism, which often is intended to motivate, actually leads to poor self-esteem, extreme fear of failure and procrastination (“I can’t do it perfectly, so I won’t try”).  Perfectionism is a losing proposition.  We are human.  We are going to make mistakes.  Being perfect all of the time is an impossible standard to meet. Studies show that perfectionism can lead poor self-esteem, burn-out, procrastination, chronic stress, poor relationships, depression & anxiety, eating disorders and increases the risk for suicide.

There are at least three components or types.  Most people with perfectionism usually have all three components:

  1. Self-oriented: With this type of perfectionism the person sets very high standards for themselves.
  2. Other-oriented:  Conversely, other-oriented perfectionism, the person sets high expectations of others.
  3. Socially prescribed: Lastly, socially prescribed perfectionism is thinking that others are demanding perfection from you.  Hence, if you don’t meet this standard, then you will be rejected by the other.

How does perfectionism develop?

It is thought to be a personality trait.  Scientists believe it has a genetic link, that it runs in the family.  Certain types of temperaments can contribute to it, too.  Additionally, it is thought that family & society plays a role in its development.  Lastly, abuse and neglect can be a contributing factor.  That is, “If I am perfect no one can hurt me”.

Ways to reduce perfectionism

First off, if you do have perfectionism, you may be very reluctant to want to change.  It helps you feel valued and often is part of your identity. Therefore, the first step is identifying ways that perfectionism gets in the way of your life. Perhaps you spend much of your waking hours working and have very few close relationship.  Or perhaps you procrastinate on tasks.  Maybe you isolate yourself.

A trained therapist helps clients reduce perfectionism with cognitive approaches including modifying standards, complete a task, on purpose, that includes mistakes, reduce negative thinking, etc.

Additionally, therapists may work with te client on the underlying causes as in the case abuse and neglect.