What are the Psychological Effects of Anorexia

What are the Psychological Effects of Anorexia?

Anorexia is a mental disorder characterized by a fear of weight gain in which the individual limits food intake to the point of near starvation in order to remain thin. While there is no known cause of this disorder, thorough research has identified several psychological effects of anorexia and common comorbidities associated with it. Fortunately, anorexia is treatable. In understanding the psychological effects of anorexia, you will become aware of the many mental components this disorder carries with it, and how to best treat them.

Signs of Anorexia

Because anorexia is an eating disorder, indicators of this condition are often physical and apparent. If you or a loved one is displaying the following signs, anorexia has likely developed.

  • Extremely underweight
  • Excessive exercise
  • Fixation on food intake
  • Extreme dieting
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Fatigue
  • Low heart rate
  • Anemia
  • Lanugo (fine hair growth on body)

Psychological Effects of Anorexia

Classified as a mental illness, anorexia has various psychological effects on the individual suffering from this disorder. While anorexia may be responsible for the development of these psychological reactions, the eating disorder may just as easily be a result of a pre-existing mental illness. Common psychological effects associated with anorexia are anxiety, depression, substance abuse, body dysmorphia, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Anorexia and Anxiety

Anxiety is heavily associated with anorexia as they both revolve around worry. Those suffering from anorexia display the most common signs of anxiety such as excessive worrying, agitation, restlessness, and fear. The distinguishing factor for anorexia is that these stressors revolve around food and appearance.  According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately two-thirds of people with eating disorders suffer from an anxiety disorder, with around 42 percent having developed an anxiety disorder during childhood. Whether anxiety preceded anorexia or vice versa, there is a strong correlation between these two disorders and they often co-exist.

Anorexia and Depression

It is common for individuals suffering from anorexia to also battle depression. Having an eating disorder, such as anorexia, can easily minimize a person’s self-esteem, confidence in appearance or abilities, or lead them to believe that they are helpless. Eating disorders induce feelings of shame, guilt and secrecy which may eventually develop into depression. In contrast, struggling with depression can produce an eating disorder. In order to feel a sense of control in their life, many individuals turn to anorexia, binge eating, or bulimia as a way to self-medicate without realizing the harm they are doing to their bodies.

Anorexia and Substance Abuse

There is a strong correlation between anorexia and substance abuse disorders. Data collected by the National Eating Disorders Association shows that up to 50% of individuals with eating disorders abused alcohol or illicit drugs, a rate five times higher than the general population. Individuals who are prone to stress, anxiety, or impulsivity are the most at-risk for developing both eating disorders and substance addiction. As a way to escape shame or guilt associated with anorexia, individuals may turn to substance abuse. Contrary to this, substance abuse has the potential of causing eating disorders, especially anorexia, as many drugs of abuse act as stimulants and appetite suppressants.

Anorexia and Body Dysmorphia

Body dysmorphia is a mental condition that involves the obsessive focus on perceived physical flaws, some of which aren’t even real. Body dysmorphia and anorexia go hand-in hand as they are very similar disorders. As anorexia becomes more severe, an individual’s body image is likely to become more distorted. Body dysmorphia reinforces this belief by manipulating an individual into identifying and obsessing over minimal physical flaws.

Anorexia and OCD

Anorexia and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, commonly referred to as OCD, are the most common co-existing disorders in individuals who suffer from either illness. In fact, some medical professionals consider anorexia as a type of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. As stated by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is the most common anxiety disorder to co-occur with an eating disorder. Those who have both disorders often develop compulsive rituals connected to food, such as weighing every bit of food or cutting it into tiny pieces, or even binge eating. Anorexia and OCD both share the same basic symptoms which include obsession over minimal details, the need to be in control, and the fear of what may happen if they lose that control.

Treatment for Anorexia

Considered a serious mental illness, anorexia is a disorder that should not be ignored or neglected. Fortunately, there are treatment options available for those struggling with this eating disorder.

Medical Treatment

In the advanced stages of an eating disorder such as anorexia, the physical body has become extremely malnourished, muscular atrophy has set in, and the individual may be alarmingly underweight. Because of the many medical complications that can arise from these side effects, clinical supervision is necessary. Medical professionals are able to monitor progress, administer nutrients back into the body, and develop a food and exercise regimen so that the individual’s physical state can be restored to what it was before the eating disorder began.


Once the individual is physically capable, therapy is a highly recommended next step. A trained therapist will be able to identify the source of the eating disorder, confront past traumas or emotional events that may have led to the onslaught of anorexia, and treat any coexisting mental disorders that have developed. Continuous therapy will also work to successfully prevent relapse and help to gradually rebuild the individual’s confidence.

Psychological Effects of Anorexia – Riverwalk Recovery Can Help

Anorexia is a serious mental disorder that has potentially life-threatening consequences. By understanding the signs of this eating disorder, as well as the psychological effects of anorexia and treatments available, you can rest assured that this disease does not have to control your life or the life of your loved one anymore.

In addition to the physical risks of anorexia, this disorder can also harm an individual mentally. Common psychological effects of anorexia include anxiety, depression, substance abuse, body dysmorphia, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Thankfully, there is help available. By accepting medical help and ongoing therapy, anorexia can be successfully treated.

By enlisting the help of the treatment professionals at Riverwalk Recovery, you can feel safe and comfortable knowing that you are receiving effective, quality care. We offer various services to fit your needs and place an emphasis on overall health and wellbeing. If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder or any of the other disorders mentioned, call a specialist at Riverwalk Recovery at (423) 264-2600 today and let us know how we can help.

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