Anxiety And Eating Disorders


Anxiety is a normal human reaction to stressful events, but usually, it dissipates when the situation normalizes. There are some people however who suffer from feelings of anxiety for no apparent reason. Those who suffer from an anxiety disorder can find it very difficult to cope with everyday life. In such situations, online therapy resources have given some sound advice on how to help sufferers.

When a loved one or dear friend is hiding or lying about self-destructive behavior, it often feels like we need to take action immediately. Even if it means destroying or disrupting a relationship. — F. Diane Barth L.C.S.W.


Anxiety and depression have always been linked to eating disorders, but recent thinking is that anxiety may cause the eating disorder and not the other way around. People who suffer from anxiety and depression and those who have eating disorders all suffer from low self-esteem, so it is easy to understand how these conditions can be inter-related.



In 2004 a study found that two-thirds of people with eating disorders also suffered from anxiety during their lifetime and that in 42% of the cases the disorder had occurred during their childhood.

People with eating disorders are twice as likely as the general public to suffer from anxiety and depression. Those who suffer from anxiety feel frightened and uneasy for no apparent reason. Eating disorders are triggered by a need for control. Some people may develop eating disorders as a way to gain control over a life lost to anxiety.

People with eating disorders and co-existing anxiety disorders find that restricting their eating helps them to feel less anxious. Not eating or purging makes them feel more in control. Tragically, they don’t realize starving the body will result in a stressed brain that will react by causing anxiety and depressive thoughts.

Many people suffering from eating disorders fear public humiliation or criticism normally expecting such humiliation to be centered on their eating habits or body size or shape. They project their own poor body image onto others, expecting some form of criticism of their body shape or eating habits.

Remember that eating disorders aren’t really about weight and food.  They are expressing something else troubling happening in their life. — Susan Albers Psy.D.

People with eating disorders find it very difficult to assert themselves in social situations and feel uncomfortable in social environments, so they isolate themselves, feeling safer when alone.




Symptoms of anxiety disorder generally develop over time, but to be diagnosed with anxiety disorder the level of anxiety must have a debilitating effect on your life. The symptoms of anxiety are:

  • Racing heart
  • Chest pain
  • Hot and cold flushes
  • Oppressive worry
  • Obsessive thinking
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension – jaw clenching, balling of fists
  • Sleeping disorders – difficulty sleeping or waking up
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Feelings of dread – irrational, overwhelming and disruptive

When you become obsessed with your diet and eating habits, your emotions begin to hinge on that obsession. — Dawn Delgado LMFT, CEDS-S

Types of anxiety disorders

There are several types of anxiety, any one of which can be present in the person suffering from an eating disorder

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is the most common anxiety disorder to occur with an eating disorder. The sufferer is obsessed by anxious thoughts, making up rituals in an attempt to banish the anxiety caused by the obsession. In people suffering from eating disorders, the rituals usually revolve around food. Obsessions relate to weight and body image and rituals could include excessive exercise, constantly checking in the mirror or frequent weighing, rigid tracking of food types or following various eating rituals


  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorders – feelings of dread that frequently occur without cause or warning.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder – characterized by extreme discomfort in social environments
  • Phobic Disorders – irrational fear and avoidance of specific things or situations
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – this anxiety disorder is not completely understood. The disorder is frequently triggered by a traumatic event such as abuse or the death of a loved one, but sociological, genetic and psychological conditions are also thought to contribute.


Self Help Coping Mechanisms

  • Mindfulness meditation – often anxiety is caused by worrying about future situations. Mindfulness meditation teaches individuals to concentrate on the here and now.
  • Sorting the controllable from the uncontrollable problems – Much of what we worry about is outside of our control. Letting go of the concerns over which we have no control can help to reduce the causes of anxiety.
  • Positive thinking – anxiety is driven by negativity. Consciously rejecting negative feelings can help to reduce the anxiety
  • Speak to a friend – share the problems.


Regardless of whether the anxiety caused the eating disorder or vice versa, an effective treatment plan will take account of both disorders. Usually, both have the same root cause.  Cognitive Behaviour Therapy has proven to be very successful. During therapy, the patient learns better coping mechanisms. They are taught what triggers negative eating habits and how to avoid the trigger. Initially, medication may be used to control the anxiety whilst the patient learns to overcome the eating disorder.