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anxiety and eating disordersThis question comes from reader/forum contributor Sunshine.

Q: I have anxiety, I take meds for it. How do I control my anxiety without using food? Because I use food to numb my mind. Thanks!

A: This is a good question. And one that many people deal with. Anxiety is certainly underneath many cases of bulimia and binge eating as well as compulsive exercise and anorexia. Anxiety can feel very “sharp,” and doing things like eating (or drinking alcohol) can dull it down a bit.  In order to stop using food to deal with anxiety, you must make a decision to actually try to deal with the anxiety.

First off, what is anxiety? Anxiety is usually fear based in “what ifs” it’s an alternative reality filled with horrible things that might happen that plagues our minds. FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real) is the thing that keeps us up at night and begs to be shut down and quieted because fear is, well, it’s scary! Being scared is no fun and food is a great distraction. However, if you can begin to debunk the anxiety, give it less power, you might regain some power over it so that you can be in charge rather than the anxiety.

How to do this:

1.)Do a reality check. Question the anxiety. For example. What am I anxious about?

Answer: I am anxious about this party that I am going to tomorrow, I am scared that everyone will think that I’m dumb or that I have nothing to say.

Now question it. Will everyone really think you’re dumb? Do people have time to stand around and judge you when everyone is mostly trying to enjoy themselves or even deal with there own insecurities. What if people do think I’m dumb. Will that change who I am?

2.)What can you control in this situation? You can control whether or not you go to the party, who or who you choose not to talk to, and what you choose to or not to say. However, you cannot control what other people are thinking. Whatever you cannot control, try to let go of it. It’s out of your hands.

3.)If your anxiety doesn’t have a root cause, if it’s free floating anxiety, try to sit down and write it out: I am anxious because…

Do this at least once a day. Often, just the exercise of looking at your feelings can help you release them.

4.)Practice deep breathing and meditation.

5.)Do Yoga!

6.)Do progressive muscle relaxation

7.)Put signs on your refrigerator or pantry that say STOP- REMEMBER TO BREATH. That way, when you are in the grips of anxiety, you might have a chance of letting go and relaxing. When you do, breathe in through your nose to the count of 5, then exhale to the count of 5. Do this ten times. It will relax your body and mind enough for you to actively decide whether or not you want to binge.

I also wrote a post on this about 4 years ago, if you want to check it out as well.

I hope that this is helpful! Keep asking questions!

Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating disorders? Send an email to bingeeatingtherapy  at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location.

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Most recent quote from community member: "Unbelievable progress. I had a slice of cake, wasn't that fussed about it and moved on. Cake is just cake! I never thought I'd get to this place. I keep thinking back to an earlier meditation when all the negative energy left down through my feet. That was really powerful. I'm planning to play it again. I've also drawn up a weekly meal plan of healthy balanced meals. This just helps to give me a bit of guidance and planning and eliminates any need for impulsive decisions when I often feel stressed after work. Amazing, thank you so much. I always hoped for hope, but n ow I feel like I'm living hope! I'm so grateful Leora. Thank you."
  • sunshine

    Very, very helpful. Thankyou so much!

  • As a psychiatrist who works extensively with binge eaters, I can say that yes, anxiety can be a cause of this behavior. But it’s not so simple. People eat compulsively for many reasons, whether to fill an emotional void, self-soothe around a hurt, numb a false fear or stuff down anger. Behavioral support is helpful and relaxation exercises can diminish anxiety, but my approach is to look at the deep, underlying causes of binge eating. As I say in my book, “Never Diet Again,” when the person has dealt with the real cause of the problem, the urge to binge will disappear. This has certainly been the experience of the people I treat.