- Dina Cohen
Why is a dietitian writing about anxiety?
Because it comes up in my office every day!
Like it or not, anxiety and eating are intertwined. Anxiety messes with your appetite. (You can read more about this here.) It contributes to picky eating and emotional eating. It keeps people stuck in unhelpful habits. And last but not least, anxiety and eating disorders are besties. Eating disorders often come along with other disorders, which we call "co-occuring disorders", and anxiety is the most common co-occuring disorder. In fact, it's more likely than not that someone with an eating disorder will also have anxiety. Very often, the anxiety will have been around long before the eating disorder showed up. But it can add an extra layer to the work of recovery. It's hard to get up on time to eat breakfast when you've been lying awake until 3 AM because of your racing thoughts.
If you experience significant anxiety, you know it's a beast. It can vary in its intensity, ranging from mild discomfort to incapacitating, full-on terror. Because it is incredibly common, anxiety has been the subject of much research, and fortunately, there are numerous effective interventions to help people who are having a tough time with anxiety. Some of these interventions, such as mindfulness and exposure work, can be helpful in eating disorder recovery as well as anxiety.
Because there's so much overlap, any eating disorder dietitian worth her salt (or tea) needs to know a thing or two about anxiety. I try to keep on top of the relevant research and keep my eyes and ears open for any helpful new tools. One such tool is an app called DARE- Break Free From Anxiety. It is very user-friendly and chock full of strategies to help with anxiety, insomnia, intrusive thoughts, and panic. If you're not an app person, there's also a wonderful book that walks you through the same concepts and skills.
Check out DARE here:
Some other apps that clients have found helpful are Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer.
Do you have a child who struggles with anxiety? Here are some helpful books:
For very young children:
When I Feel Worried by Cornelia Maude Spelman
For older children:
What to Do When You Worry Too Much by Dawn Huebner
Of course, please contact a mental health professional if anxiety is getting in the way of your or your child's life. These materials can be great supplements to therapy but do not replace it.
Remember that recovery (whether from an eating disorder, anxiety disorder, or both) takes time. As much as we'd like to snap our fingers and make a challenge go away, that's generally not how it works. Like a good cup of tea, it takes time for a satisfactory result to develop, but you'll be left calmer and fortified. It's worth the effort.