Anorexia Nervosa & other mental illnesses.

“Anorexia Nervosa can easily survive with other mental health conditions, addictions and eating disorders.“ For those living with Anorexia Nervosa, they may say it acts…

Anorexia Nervosa can easily survive with other mental health conditions, addictions and eating disorders.

For those living with Anorexia Nervosa, they may say it acts as a ring leader. No matter what’s found to be accompanying the eating disorder, recovery can’t fully begin until the symptoms of each condition are identified. It’s only then that treatment and medication can be advised. Although medical professionals generally understand the co-inhabiting nature of Anorexia, many are still treated for one side of the double (or even triple) edged sword.

From previous experience, I was treated solely for anorexia. Although I was prescribed a high dose of antidepressants, the anxiety and remaining symptoms of depression were largely ignored. My team was only in favour of weight gain and food diaries. 

My treatment team is now aware of the conditions that coexist with anorexia nervosa, meaning all my symptoms are being addressed correctly. Although this can make treatment more difficult, it’s more thorough and therefore it increases the chances of lasting recovery.


Anorexia Nervosa & Bulimia Nervosa.

Anorexic behaviour exists on a spectrum between the two extremes of abstinence from food and bulimic tendencies. In regards to anorexia, abstinence is considered to be an extreme restriction of food. This often results in a low body weight in extreme cases. However, it’s important to remember that anorexia nervosa DOES NOT come in any one size. You can be suffering even in a ‘bigger’ body.

Bulimic tendencies are considered to be eating large quantities of food, often in a short space of time. This is followed by extreme guilt, resulting in purging in an attempt to rid themselves of the food through whatever means possible. 

The body can only be deprived for so long before it begins to take control back. If the body remains in a state of starvation for long enough it may eventually force the individual to break restriction and desperately binge. For the anorexic, this can be devastating and can often lead to other self-destructive behaviours in order to cope.

According to Christopher Freeman’s ‘Overcoming Anorexia Nervosa’, approximately 40-50% of anorexics experience bulimic episodes. However, having experienced clinical environments on several occasions, I’m more inclined to insist that this percentage is incorrect. In fact, it’s more likely that it’s above 50%.

Anorexia Nervosa & Other Psychological Conditions.

Depression & Anxiety.

Depression and anxiety are often found co-existing with an eating disorder for a variety of complex reasons. Extreme dieting and restriction has been known to cause ‘diet-depression’, and can even cause a brief period of elation or euphoria. These types of anxiety and depression can’t be treated by anti-depressants alone. Weight gain is essential and in fact, it’s only as the body begins to regain weight that these thinking patterns begin to shift.

But the weight gain can be a double-edged sword. It can easily create severe discomfort which can often lead to early relapse.

For example.

An individual becomes depressed because they’re stuck within the throes of anorexia and therefore a low body weight. In order to recover they need to gain a significant amount of weight, however, that increases thoughts of self-hatred and anxiety. In order to reach a stable weight, and eventually, a better mindset, they need to experience extreme discomfort through weight gain.

It’s extremely difficult, and often this is lost on those who have never had to experience it.

But why do we feel intense emotions such as anxiety and depression? It’s down to our brain chemistry, uncomfortable situations, lack of adequate nutrition and, possibly, external factors such as trauma and stress.

The existence of depression or anxiety prior to the appearance of the eating disorder could have played a hand in its development. The restriction only proves to increase these feelings, yet it’s such a difficult cycle to break free from.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Eating disorders, specifically anorexia nervosa, are often fueled by obsessive, repetitive thoughts and impulses. Rituals and ritualistic behaviours can be a big part of Anorexia, and failing to follow through with them can seem catastrophic to the sufferer.

That’s why OCD and Anorexia are often seen together. The compulsive behaviors associated with both conditions are intended to help reduce anxiety and fear. For someone with an eating disorder, this is often associated with food or situations where eating may be expected. These can differ from person to person, but you can expect to find the following:

  • Cutting food into tiny pieces.
  • Certain rituals surrounding weighing/measuring of food.
  • Weighing rituals; i.e weighing each morning.
  • Body checking each morning/night.
  • Following exercise routines/exercising for a certain amount of time.
  • Fixation on numbers, not just stopping with those on the scale.

Often the compulsion to do so can be so overwhelming, that it makes the person uncomfortable or even distraught if it isn’t followed.

Self-Injury.

Self-harm is a way often used to cope with difficult and painful emotions. Various forms of self-injury can be seen alongside eating disorders, which in themselves can be viewed as dangerous, self-inflicted behaviour*. In the case of anorexia nervosa emotions can become so bottled up that when they finally rise to the surface, they can be overwhelming. Sometimes the only way an individual can cope is by carrying out self-injuring behaviour such as cutting, burning, bruising, etc.

*(Note: This by no means implies that an eating disorder or self-injury is the fault of the individual. Mental illness and the lengths we go to in order to cope are NOT out fault.)

Many who use self-harm as a coping technique express feelings of guilt and shame following the act. Often they become lost in the moment, only wanting to release the pain. It’s only afterward that they realise the damage inflicted, and can often feel so ashamed they refuse to seek medical help (which can be dangerous depending on the injury).


This is by no means and exhausted list of possible co-morbid conditions. Although this article focuses mainly on anorexia nervosa, all eating disorders can exist with depression, anxiety, self-injury, PTSD etc.

54 comments

  1. They can’t be compartmentalised sadly but gaining a better understanding of what feeds into them or what branches off from them at least helps professionals medicate correctly for the most part. There may not be a pill for anorexia but if the anxiety and depression can be somewhat managed then it might make it that bit easier.
    Thank you for reading Britt! Stay safe!

  2. It is so important to acknowledge the way that these various illnesses and disorders work together to create a far more complex situation. It’s easy to try to compartmentalize each of these, but it’s not always that cut and dry. A better understanding of the bigger picture allows us to better understand the decisions that individuals make who are living that struggle (I was one for years)

  3. A really informative post and it’s important to realise there’s more to anorexia nervosa and other mental illnesses. So often they come with additional burdens that are equally as horrible to deal with. Thanks for sharing x

  4. Don’t I know it! Not a day goes by where I’m not anxious about something. Depression is becoming less frequent for me but the anxiety is at an all-time high.

  5. Words hurt and it’s about time people realised that. Verbal violence is almost as bad, if not worse than physical violence and can lead to many horrible things.
    Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  6. It certainly can lead to death. It’s among one of the highest death rates of all psychiatric illnesses at present.
    Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

  7. They certainly are. They have long been here and there doesn’t seem to be any stopping them, much like other similar mental illnesses.

  8. Great post! I think eating disorders are very important topic for each person

  9. I had some clients that had this problem. It was very challenging for them. You are definitely helping people through your words. Thank you!!!!

  10. I really don’t know much about any type of eating disorders, but I can only assume it’s a mental and emotional issue. I feel bad for those who suffer from it.

    Candy Rachelle
    Keeping Up With Candy

  11. I know very little about anorexia other than that it is a serious illness that can also lead to death.I pray for those with eating disorders or serious mental health problems such as depression.

  12. I see it with my students all day long, badgering each other and making each other feel bad or take their limitations personally because someone said something negative about it and it is so unfair to make someone feel bad about who they are or uncomfortable just being themselves. Stuff like that lead to things of this sort as eating disorders, depression and suicide. People can be so mean sometime without even considering how talking about someone’s looks, weight or dilemmas really affect them. I try my best to encourage them to not listen to what others say and to know who you are.

  13. Yeah, the sad thing about disorders is they often come with other bad things along with them. Unfortunately anxiety and depression frequently occur alongside anorexia.

  14. I’ve only read about these conditions through a third party, and it’s heartbreaking to think of anyone going through it. I never knew about the association too with OCD.

  15. Mental health is so important, now more than ever. It really shouldn’t be looked down upon. Thanks for sharing so much knowledge and educating your readers.

  16. I think we need to raise more awareness on eating disorder because in the end they are so much more than eating disorders. Educating will help better understand but also treat it better.

  17. It’s so important to TALK about this, I love that your opening it up. Not only does it help to educate, it also helps others realize they’re not alone. As always I appreciate your insight my friend.

  18. It is very important to come out and talk about these topics. Very brave if you to out across your experience so that others can learn as well!

  19. I hate how the medical community tried to treat illnesses in isolation for so many years. I am glad you are now getting well-rounded treatment. And that medicine has gotten better in that respect. And it makes total sense that so many illnesses do not present individually but as several different components that all affect your wellness. Thank you as always for being willing to put your struggle out there so that others can learn and grow from it. ♥

  20. I have had friends suffering from there. I’m just always there for them when they need it. I don’t pretend to know what they are going through, but I tell them I’m always around if they want to talk.

  21. Sometimes people get into these habits just to make themselves suffer. It’s not always about the weight or looks. Sometimes it’s guilt or the feel of neglect.

  22. I must say I feel guilty all the time when I eat and don`t feel hungry I really feel bad and make any excuse to got to bathroom. Thank you for taking time to write this!

  23. VERY VERY WELL DONE FOR TALKING ABOUT Anorexic peoples views/judgements are very Snotty Nosed ..as a child i was bullied badly SOON AFTER i was then Abused .so VOMITING
    Become a way of life coping .I am not afraid too say or talk about it .biggest trouble is PEOPLE
    do NOT see the EFECTS OF THE BODY and it effects in MANY WAYS ..instead of vomiting
    THESE DAYS i sit have a very very good CRY ..my way of COPING
    my blog,http;//mark-kent.webs.com
    twitter,supersnopper

    mark

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