Are eating disorders mental illness?

21 February 2021 / By Social Media

*TW: Eating disorders*

Eating disorders are marked by severe disturbances in an individual’s eating behaviors, as well as their thoughts and emotions. Individuals who suffer from eating disorders often have to face the common misconception that their disorder is simply a lifestyle choice, which can be treated by ‘choosing’ to eat more or less food. Although majority of the visible symptoms surrounding eating disorders are physical, they are serious psychological disorders. Eating disorders have been recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since the 1980’s. The behaviors and symptoms resulting from eating disorders can severely impact on one’s physical and psychological health.

Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. In addition to their physical symptoms, these disorders also impact one’s mental health and cause symptoms like low self-esteem, feeling ashamed or guilty, social isolation, and mood swings. Eating disorders have a high comorbidity and often occur along with other psychological disorders like depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and addiction. Presnell et al (2009) studied a sample of 500 female adolescents over an 8- year period and found a positive correlation between depressive episodes and bulimic
symptoms; as depressive episodes increased, so did future bulimic symptoms, and vice versa.

Treating complex illnesses like eating disorders often requires a combination of a wide range of methods like psychotherapy, medications, nutritional counseling, and more. With the appropriate help, individuals are encouraged to return to a healthy weight, restore nutrition levels, and treat unhealthy behaviors and thinking patterns. In order to create a safe environment for all patients to be able to seek help, we need to break the stereotype that eating disorders only effect adolescent women, it can impact people belonging to all age and genders. It is vital to reduce the stigma surroundings eating disorders and raise awareness of their warning symptoms to help patients get the appropriate help they require.

Presnell, K., Stice, E., Seidel, A., & Madeley, M. C. (2009). Depression and eating pathology: prospective reciprocal relations in adolescents. Clinical psychology & psychotherapy, 16(4),

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