Are Eating Disorders Considered Mental Illnesses?

Are Eating Disorders Considered a Mental Illness?

Eating disorders are mental illnesses because they are linked to psychological factors, including low self-esteem, a need for control and negative body image. Many behaviors associated with eating disorders can be physically and psychologically dangerous for your well-being.

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How Eating Disorders Affect Mental Health

Eating disorders can be mentally and physically demanding as the body and the mind work against each other. On one side, your mind can tell you that you do not need to eat in order to reach your ideal body type, but your body is hungry from a lack of nutrients.

This constant war can contribute to the co-occurrence of other mental illnesses, such as anxiety, OCD and depression. Mental health disorders and eating disorders can have similar triggers and symptoms, but they will likely vary depending on whether it was the eating disorder or the mental health disorder that started first.

Similar Triggers

An eating disorder can develop for various reasons relating to an individual's past or current situation — and often, the eating disorder doesn't have anything to do with food. Some of the most common causes include:

  • A desire for control over what enters their body.
  • Unhealthy coping mechanism for negative feelings.
  • History of trauma or neglect.
  • Persistent and extreme stress.

Shared Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of eating disorders and other common mental health conditions are similar, including feelings of shame, anger, sadness, negative thoughts, poor concentration, fatigue and low self-esteem. Specifically for eating disorders, these emotions play out in the following ways:

  • A change in behavior regarding food.
  • Emotions associated with consuming food.
  • Intrusive thoughts about food intake, prepping or consumption.
  • Restricting caloric intake.
  • Purging after eating or overeating.

What Is the Link Between Common Mental Illnesses and Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders and other mental illnesses can often influence each other. While the combinations below are not the only links found between these conditions, they are common examples of how one can play a part in developing another.

Anorexia Nervosa and OCD

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by starvation and weight loss. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness with persistent thoughts and fears contributing to compulsive behavior.

For example, someone with anorexia can begin by obsessively counting their calories to influence weight loss. This can then develop into a daily problem, creating common ritualistic behaviors in individuals with OCD. By compulsively counting every nutrient going into their body, individuals can feel secure in managing the fear of gaining weight.

Bulimia Nervosa and Anxiety

Individuals with bulimia nervosa often have prolonged episodes of binge eating followed by a period of preventing weight gain — including vomiting, fasting or vigorous exercise. Anxiety is a mental health disorder that exhibits a constant state of worry, even after the stressful situation is resolved.

About 94% of individuals with bulimia nervosa experience another mental health disorder at some point, with anxiety being the most common. There are many reasons why these two are related. As one example, some people with anxiety tend to binge eat in a state of worry or hypersensitivity. Another factor — like poor self-esteem — can cause them to realize they ate too much and worry about their physical appearance, ultimately leading to a period of purging.

Join an Intensive Mental Health Program at Diamond House Detox

Diamond House Detox offers intensive mental health outpatient programs to help guide you or your loved one on a path to recovery. We can meet you where you are, whether you feel you are in too deep or have started to work toward treatment. Contact us today and begin getting the care you deserve.