Why Do Eating Disorders and Mental Health Go Hand in Hand?

Published On: January 27, 2024Categories: Co-Occurring Disorders, Eating Disorders, Mental Health

Eating disorders — complex conditions characterized by severe disturbances in eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions — often coexist with other mental health issues. The relationship between disordered eating and mental health disorders is multifaceted. This blog explores the intricate link between eating disorders and mental health, shedding light on why these conditions often co-occur and how they affect each other. 

The Psychological Basis of Eating Disorders 

Deeply rooted in psychological issues, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder are not merely about food or weight. These conditions often stem from a need for control, low self-esteem, perfectionism and/or trauma. Eating disorder behaviors may include restricting, binging and/or purging. These behaviors serve as harmful methods for coping with underlying psychological distress. 

Co-occurring Mental Health Disorders 

Individuals diagnosed with eating disorders commonly have co-occurring mental health disorders. Anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are all frequently seen alongside eating disorders. Mental health issues can both contribute to the development of an eating disorder and exacerbate existing eating disorder symptoms. 

  1. Anxiety and Eating Disorders: Anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety and specific phobias, are highly prevalent in individuals with eating disorders. Obsessive thoughts about food, body image and weight in eating disorders can be a manifestation of underlying anxiety.
  1. Depression and Eating Disorders: Depression can lead to feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, which can influence disordered eating behaviors. In some cases, individuals use food to self-medicate or control these emotions.
  1. OCD and Eating Disorders: The rigid and ritualistic behaviors seen in OCD can be similar to the patterns observed in eating disorders, such as obsessive calorie counting or compulsive exercise.
  1. PTSD and Eating Disorders: Traumatic experiences at the root of PTSD can significantly impact an individual’s relationship with food and their body, leading to disordered eating behaviors.

Biological Factors  

Research suggests there may be genetic and biological factors that predispose individuals to eating disorders and other mental health issues. Serotonin and dopamine (neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation, appetite and impulse control) may play a role in the development of these conditions. 

Social and Cultural Influences 

Cultural pressures and societal norms around body image and dieting can also contribute to eating disorders and mental health issues. The idealization of thinness and the stigma around mental health can create a toxic environment for vulnerable individuals.  

The Impact of Eating Disorders on Mental Health 

The relationship between eating disorders and mental health is bidirectional. While mental health issues can lead to disordered eating, eating disorders can also exacerbate or trigger mental health problems. The physical and psychological stress of an eating disorder can worsen symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. 

Seeking Help and Treatment 


It’s crucial for individuals suffering from an eating disorder and co-occurring mental health issues to receive comprehensive treatment that addresses both conditions. An effective treatment plan may include therapy, medication, nutritional counseling and support groups. Early intervention and a holistic treatment approach can significantly improve outcomes. 


Eating disorders and mental health issues are intricately linked, with each influencing and exacerbating the other. Understanding this complex relationship is key to providing effective care and support for those affected. By addressing both the eating disorder and the co-occurring mental health issues, individuals can embark on a path to recovery and improved overall well-being. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder and mental health issues, seeking professional help is a critical step towards healing. 

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