5 Tips for Relieving Anxiety in Eating Disorder Treatment

man stressed about compulsive overeating

As if battling an eating disorder or generalized anxiety disorder wasn’t challenging enough, the difficult truth is that the two often come hand-in-hand. So, how does a person go about relieving anxiety in eating disorder treatment?

Two-thirds of those struggling with an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder) will face this combination throughout their lives [1].

Relieving anxiety while also fighting an eating disorder can seem overwhelming, but the truth is that the symptoms of the two often overlap.

In fact, research indicates that symptoms of anxiety often precede an eating disorder [2].

This often means that treating symptoms of anxiety can go a long way in fostering eating disorder recovery as well.

Relieving Anxiety in Eating Disorder Treatment

1 – Know Your Triggers

This is helpful for both eating disorder recovery and coping with an anxiety disorder, as, often, what triggers symptoms of anxiety also triggers disordered eating.

Triggers are completely subjective, meaning that they depend solely on the individual experiencing them. As such, learning your own are important because what triggers someone else may be inconsequential to you. However, what others don’t notice may be triggering for you.

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2 – Create a Routine

Having a routine helps with both anxiety and eating disorders, especially when one is beginning their journey to recovery.

It is when we do not have a plan to occupy our minds or time that anxiety can creep in.

Further, disordered eating symptoms can be triggered by entering situations without planning ahead in regard to foods available, people involved, and support that is available if need-be.

Creating a daily routine can help to reduce uncertainties, keep you on track, and motivate you to fill each day with recovery-focused and positive people, places, and things.

3 – Distraction & Self-Soothe

Painting of Lady in bath to help in Relieving Anxiety

Sometimes, we cannot change the circumstances we’re in, even when we know they are triggering to us.

For example, while we know sadness or uncertainty may trigger our anxiety or disordered eating behaviors, we cannot avoid these feelings our entire lives.

This is where distraction or self-soothe coping skills can come in handy. Both can be helpful in relieving anxiety. This is especially true if you are in a situation where you cannot change your surroundings or what is happening. It is better to learn, instead, to cope through it.

Distraction skills are helpful in moments when your anxiety or eating disorder are triggering you. Especially if you feel emotionally overwhelmed or are tempted to make decisions you may later regret.

Some distraction skills may include playing a video game, watching a movie or listening to music that evokes a more positive emotion, or cleaning.

Self-soothing skills involve engaging the five senses to help you ease your mind, feel more relaxed, and work through tolerating a stressful or overwhelming emotional situation.

Examples include anything that keys into your sight (looking at artwork), sound (listening to music or nature sounds), smell (aromatherapy), touch (feeling a soft object or fidget), and taste (mindful eating or drinking tea).

The key is to engage in these activities mindful, recognizing how they are impacting your mind and body and allowing yourself to be present in that moment.

4 – Reach Out

No matter how hard you work to use coping skills or combat feelings of anxiety, they are likely to creep in at times.

It is helpful, in these moments, to know who your support system includes and in what areas they are helpful.

For example, one friend may be well-skilled at helping distract you, while spending time with your Mom can be soothing.

Know who you have around you and don’t be afraid to let them know when you need them.

5 – Notice Your Thinking

A lot of disordered eating thoughts go hand-in-hand with anxious thoughts.

Individuals with eating disorders often worry about what may happen if they “lose control,” gain weight, eat whatever they want, feel negative emotions, etc.

Image of Person Exercising and Healing Body HatredWith anxiety, these worries can result in falling down a rabbit hole of “if this, then this, then this, then this…” and creates a cycle of worst-case-scenarios that become overwhelming and terrifying.

In relieving anxiety, notice your thoughts and work on replacing any fear-based, negative, harmful self-talk with more positive, helpful, recovery-focused thoughts.

Lead with these helpful thoughts, use them to remind you of your support, your coping skills, and your innate ability to overcome.


[1] Unknown (2018). Eating disorders. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/eating-disorders.

[2] Swinbourne, J. et al. (2012). The comorbidity between eating disorders and anxiety disorders: prevalence in eating disorder sample and anxiety disorder sample. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 46:2.

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Author: 

Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published August 6, 2019, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on August 6, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.