Depression, Eating Disorders & Therapy

Woman thinks about Effective Anorexia Treatment

Research shows that individuals with eating disorders (EDs) are often diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder. One of the most common disorders co-occurring with EDs is depression. Though there are many different therapies to treat depression and eating disorders, one specific type of therapy, Interpersonal Psychotherapy, has seen great success in treating individuals with both an ED and depression.

Depression and Eating Disorders

Approximately 32-39 percent of people with anorexia nervosa, 33 percent of people with binge eating disorder, and 36-50 percent of people with bulimia nervosa are diagnosed with co-occurring major depressive disorder [1]. Individual studies reveal even more alarming rates.

One study of 2,400 individuals hospitalized for an ED found that 94 percent of them had co-occurring mood disorders, mostly major depression [2]. Another study of women with eating disorders found that 92 percent struggled with a depressive disorder [3].

The relationship between depression and eating disorders is complex and unique to each individual. For some, it seems the depression may trigger eating disorder behaviors, while for others, eating problems seem to initiate depression. Medical professionals are still trying to understand the intricate connection between these co-occurring disorders, but some research indicates that EDs and depression share common risk factors and directly affect each other [4].

The Importance of Treating Depression and Eating Disorders Simultaneously

Though co-occurring depression and eating disorders are two separate illnesses, they often have overlapping factors and sometimes even stem from similar causes, so it is crucial to treat them both simultaneously. One study found that symptom improvement in eating disorders and depression were strongly connected.

For example, a reduction in depressive symptoms during a therapy session predicted a reduction in ED symptoms in the next therapy session [5]. This is why it’s crucial to find a treatment center equipped to treat both disorders.

Therapy, Depression and Eating Disorders

Treating eating disorders and co-occurring depression typically requires a multi-disciplinary approach. Since both eating disorders and depression are complex bio-psycho-social illnesses, it’s crucial to work with a medical team trained in both eating disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders.

Asian woman in yellow field of flowers fighting Depression and eating disordersTypically, the treatment team for eating disorders and depression will include a physician, nutritionist, and a therapist. Treatment may involve group and/or individual counseling, medicines like antidepressants (if necessary), and various forms of therapy.

There are many types of therapy used to address and treat eating disorders and depression. Some of these include cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, sound healing, art/music therapy, and Somatic Experiencing, just to name a few. One treatment that has seen great success in patients with eating disorders and co-occurring depression is Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT).

Interpersonal Psychotherapy, Depression and Eating Disorders

IPT was first developed to treat major depressive disorder but has since been used to treat many other illnesses (including eating disorders) with much success [6]. One IPT study followed patients with Bulimia Nervosa (BM) and co-occurring depression. Researchers found that when used to treat both the eating disorder and co-occurring depression, IPT significantly improved depressive symptoms and led to a steady (but marked) reduction in ED symptoms [7].

IPT focuses on changing interpersonal relationship patterns, emotional processing, and promoting communication and social support [8]. IPT is different from other therapy treatments because it:

  1. Focuses on changing relationship patterns rather than merely “fixing” the disordered symptoms
  2. Seeks to change current relationship patterns versus dwelling on past relationship problems
  3. Addresses targeted areas instead of dwelling on the patient’s personality traits [9].

IPT treatment typically lasts for 12 to 16 weeks. During this time, the patient will have therapy sessions (individual and group), homework, and ongoing assessments.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder and co-occurring depression, take the first step toward recovery today and find an eating disorder treatment center in your area. When looking for treatment options, make sure to find a center that treats both ED and depression.


[1] Statistics & Research on Eating Disorders. National Eating Disorders Association. (2020, May 8).

[2] Tagay, S., Schlottbohm, E., Reyes-Rodriguez, M. L., Repic, N., & Senf, W. (2014). Eating disorders, trauma, PTSD, and psychosocial resources. Eating disorders, 22(1), 33-49.

[3] Blinder, B. J., Cumella, E. J., & Sanathara, V. A. (2006). Psychiatric Comorbidities of Female Inpatients With Eating Disorders. Psychosomatic Medicine, 68(3), 454-462. doi:10.1097/01.psy.0000221254.77675.f5.

[4] Puccio F, Fuller-Tyszkiewicz M, Ong D, Krug I. A systematic review and meta-analysis on the longitudinal relationship between eating pathology and depression. Int J Eat Disord. 2016;49(5):439–54.

[5] Wade, T. D., ND. Berkman, K. N. L., TA. Brown, P. K. K., F. Puccio, M. F.-T., CG. Fairburn, Z. C., R. Murphy, S. S., … P. Fonagy, E. A. (1970, January 1). Reduction in depressive symptoms predicts improvement in eating disorder symptoms in interpersonal psychotherapy: results from a naturalistic study. Journal of Eating Disorders.

[6]. Sussex Publishers. Interpersonal Psychotherapy. Psychology Today.

[7] Wade, T. D., ND. Berkman, K. N. L., TA. Brown, P. K. K., F. Puccio, M. F.-T., CG. Fairburn, Z. C., R. Murphy, S. S., … P. Fonagy, E. A. (1970, January 1). Reduction in depressive symptoms predicts improvement in eating disorder symptoms in interpersonal psychotherapy: results from a naturalistic study. Journal of Eating Disorders.

[8] ibid.

[9] Sussex Publishers. Interpersonal Psychotherapy. Psychology Today.

Sarah Musick PhotoSarah Musick is a freelance writer who specializes in eating disorder awareness and education. After battling with a 4-years long eating disorder, she made it her mission to help others find hope and healing in recovery.

Her work has been featured on numerous eating disorder blogs and websites. When she’s not writing, Sarah is off traveling the world with her husband.

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 13, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on August 13, 2020, 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.