Trigger Warning: This article discusses eating disorders in depth, and could be a trigger for anyone suffering from an eating disorder or related disorders.
This may come as a surprise to you, but the rate of eating disorders running concurrently with bipolar disorder is relatively high.
According to the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, more than 14% of people who suffer from bipolar disorder also suffer from an eating disorder. To add insult to injury, these people tend to have worse symptoms of eating disorders. And people with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop eating disorders.
Sunday, February 22 through Sunday, February 29 is the international Eating Disorder Awareness week in 2020. T0he week is a time to counteract the myths and disinformation floating around about eating disorders, and to encourage people who suffer them to get help.
According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, just over 4% of the U.S. population suffers from eating disorders. Bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million adults in the U.S., or just over 3%.
Both eating disorders and bipolar disorder affect people of both genders from all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, though eating disorders tend to affect women more frequently.
The Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Eating Disorders
The eating disorders most linked with bipolar disorder are:
- Anorexia nervosa. People who suffer from anorexia tend to avoid eating in order to lose weight. When they do eat, they may obsessively count calories. They also often exercise in extreme amounts. Anorexia nervosa is not as closely linked to bipolar disorder, though some studies have associated the two.
- Bulimia nervosa. As a contrast to people with anorexia, people with bulimia devour food and overeat, then immediately “purge” themselves by puking up the contents of their stomachs. They often also use laxatives to induce a purge. Bulimia is the eating disorder which is the most linked to bipolar disorder.
- Binge-eating disorder. People with binge-eating disorder are often compelled to overeat, but unlike people with bulimia, binge-eaters don’t purge afterwards. They often feel guilty when they eat, and tend to eat very quickly, and often alone. Just under 10% of people with bipolar disorder binge eat. Some bipolar medications encourage binge-eating. Bipolar disorder also manifests differently in people who binge eat. People with bipolar disorder who binge eat are more likely to develop other mental health issues, including suicidal thoughts, psychosis, and substance abuse..
One study found that people who suffer worse symptoms of bipolar disorder are more likely to develop bulimia or bulimia combined with anorexia.
The Challenge in Treating Both Bipolar and Eating Disorders
Treating both bipolar disorder and an eating disorder can be tricky.
Antidepressants are often employed to treat eating disorders, but tend to encourage manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder. Prescribing mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics is also complicated, as these medications tend to trigger binge-eating episodes.
The best treatment available for people who suffer from an eating disorder concurrently with bipolar disorder is talk therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is known for treating anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating.
If you suffer from bipolar disorder and an eating disorder, you are not alone. Developing an eating disorder while suffering from bipolar disorder is very common.
But there is hope. There is no shame in seeking help.
Talk to your psychiatrist about possibly adjusting your medications. It’s possible that with the right combination, your doctor can treat both disorders.
And talk to your therapist about targeted therapies to address your eating disorder and your bipolar disorder. (For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.) You can develop coping skills and start the road to recovery from your eating disorder.
I wish you well in your journey.
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