Eating Disorders and Self-Harm

Eating disorders may also occur alongside other disorders.

Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and related eating disorders often occur alongside other psychological disorders such as:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Dissociative disorder
  • Multiple personality disorder
  • Panic disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders

Roughly 25 percent of individuals suffering from eating disorders also exhibit other self-destructive behaviors such as drug addiction, alcoholism and cutting, or self-injury. Like eating disorders, self-harm generally arises out of low self-esteem and is used as a way to cope with painful emotions or experiences.

Cutting, also known as self-injury, self-harm or self-mutilation, can include burning, punching, slapping, biting, head-banging and other behaviors. People hurt themselves in this way for a variety of reasons:

  • To cope with emotional pain (they feel that dealing with physical pain is sometimes easier), stemming from intense feelings of anger, sadness, shame or stress
  • To feel alive rather than emotionally numb
  • Because they believe they deserve to be hurt
  • To feel “strong” or able to handle pain
  • To release emotions that they feel unable to express in other ways

Cutting is a behavior that can become compulsive and should never be ignored, but it is generally not a sign that an individual is trying to commit suicide. Often, people who engage in self-harm are perfectionists, have a history of trauma or abuse, and struggle with low self-esteem. Both eating disorders and self-harm can be manifestations of hatred toward their bodies or a way to punish themselves.

When an individual is suffering from both an eating disorder and another mental illness or other destructive behavior, it is important to find holistic eating disorder treatment that addresses all of the issues simultaneously. With treatment, individuals with eating disorders can learn tools to cope with their emotions without resorting to cutting or eating disorder behaviors.

Treatment may include some or all of the following:

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy to teach healthy coping skills
  • Expressive Art Therapy
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy to help identify triggers and work through difficult emotions in healthier ways
  • Individual Therapy to work through underlying issues, trauma and low self-esteem
  • Group Therapy to offer support and feedback and help establish appropriate boundaries in relationships
  • Family Therapy to develop new communication skills and resolve family conflict
  • Nutritional and Culinary Education and Counseling to re-establish a healthy relationship with food

Self-harm and eating disorders are both signs that someone is experiencing intense pain and despair. These signs should never go unnoticed or untreated as they are part of a cycle of self-destruction. Lend an ear and lend a hand when you see someone suffering, and if you’re engaging in any of these behaviors, know that you don’t have suffer with the shame and guilt any longer.