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Is eating disorder a mental illness?

Is eating disorder a mental illness?

Eating disorders are a common but fatal mental illness. This disorder causes a lethal disturbance in food behaviors. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge disorders, rumination disorders, etc, are the most common eating disorders. However, if you want to know if an is eating disorder a mental illness, then this article is extremely useful for you. Furthermore, you will get the derailed concept regarding that is an eating disorder a mental health disorder or not.

Is an eating disorder a mental disorder?

There is a strong association between eating disorders and mental health conditions. Eating disorders are also referred to as complex mental health abnormalities. Moreover, persons suffering from any mental illness can have numerous eating disorders.

How can we define an eating disorder as a mental illness?

Various factors can characterize the eating disorder as a mental illness, such as:

Emotional disturbance

Individuals get anxious after overeating. Moreover, they also overeat to overcome anxiety symptoms

Recurrent thoughts of food

Persons suffering from eating disorders love to watch the food recipes and try them. Furthermore, their mood gets altered if they fail to follow their desired meal plans. 

Altered behavior for food

They normally get more obsessed with food. They prefer to eat alone as compared to social gatherings.

Who is at more risk of having an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is a psychological disorder. Although all types of eating disorders can be found in both men and women. But females are more affected. However, the most common risk factors include:

Loss of body weight

If the person is following a strict diet plan, then there is a greater probability of getting affected by eating disorders. Weight loss can act as a drive to do more severe dieting and ultimate eating disorders.

Family history

Genes are the main hereditary factors that are responsible for the onset of eating disorder symptoms. If any parent has an eating disorder, then there is a greater chance of onset in children.

Psychological factors

Moreover, various environmental factors are also involved in the development of eating disorders. For instance, anxiety, depression, reduced self-respect, OCD, and impulsive behavior.


Eating disorders can occur in all ages. However, most teenage persons are more likely to develop eating disorders.

Types of eating disorders

Different types of common eating disorders are linked to the fact that is eating disorder a mental illness, which are as follows:

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a common physical illness that mostly occurs in teenage females. Affected girls usually overestimate their weight and inhibit their food intake. They always remain in persistent fear of gaining weight. Moreover, various emotional changes also tend to develop in them. Emotional triggers also play an important role in the onset of this disease.

Anorexia Nervosa Symptoms

There are various symptoms of anorexia nervosa. However, the most common is sudden weight loss. Other symptoms include:

  1. Dizziness
  2. Reduced blood pressure
  3. Sudden low temperature
  4. Rough skin
  5. Sudden hair loss
  6. Disturbance in the sleep-wake cycle
  7. Constipation
  8. Gastric issues
  9. Lanugo
  10. Abnormal changes in Menstrual cycle

Read More: ADHD and depression: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is also another common eating disorder. Furthermore, persons who have bulimia normally get involved in excessive eating. hey eat large amounts of food within a short period, and automatically gain weight. Moreover, bulimia nervosa is curable but can cause life-threatening situations.

Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa

Binging in bulimia nervosa can lead to various symptoms, which include:

  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Strong perception of thoughts
  • Misuse of laxatives
  • Constipation
  • Anxious condition
  • Reduced self-esteem
Physical effects of Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa imparts various toxic effects on different body organs, such as:

  • Brain
  • Muscles
  • Skin
  • Gastrointestinal tract
  • Chemical messengers
  • Kidneys
  • Throat
  • Oral cavity

Binge Eating disorder

Binge eating disorder is most common among the people of the United States. An uncalculated intake of food is usually referred to as binging. So, this binge eating disorder involves the lack of control during food intake. However, a person feels shy after excessive eating.

Symptoms of Binge Eating disorder

Just like other eating disorders, this physical illness also exhibits various symptoms, which include:

  1. Developing an unhealthy food routine
  2. Reduced self-esteem after excessive eating
  3. Repeated episodes of binge eating

Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED)

OSFED was previously defined as an eating disorder. However, nowadays, people who do not meet the diagnostic criteria are categorized under this type. Symptoms of OSFED show a resemblance to one or more eating disorders.

Symptoms of OSFED

Individuals with OSFED usually experience the following symptoms which include:

  • Completely distorted eating behaviors
  • Inappropriate evaluation of BMI
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Severe anxiety or depression
  • Highly selective in terms of food choice
  • Unusual feeling of guilt

Night Eating Syndrome

As the name indicates, a night eating disorder involves overeating at night. Usually, persons having sleep issues are affected by this disorder. Due to their sleep difficulty, they invest their time in binging.

Symptoms of Night Eating Syndrome

If you are suffering from night eating syndrome, you will come across the below-mentioned symptoms.

  1. Excessive intake of calories after dinner
  2. Less appetite in the morning time
  3. Insomnia leading to NES
  4. Firm concept of overeating for essential pleasure at night
  5. Anxiety or depression that gets worse at night

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

As the name suggests, this eating disorder involves restricted eating patterns. This physical illness is more common in children or teenage individuals. They become more selective in food choices. Moreover, their food preference can cause malnutrition. Ultimately, ARFID disrupts their normal growth and development.

Symptoms of ARFID

  • Some of the common physical symptoms include:
  • Reduced cardiac beat
  • Sudden and drastic loss in weight
  • Stomach cramps
  • Fainting
  • Hairs thinning
Rumination Disorder

This disorder involves the effortless transport of food from the stomach back to the mouth. However, this occurs without the presence of any organic disease. In addition, the complete digestion process takes approximately three to four hours. Despite this, this condition occurs within 10 to 15 minutes of a meal. The reversed food normally tastes less and is neutral in terms of acidity.

However, some possible symptoms of rumination disorder include:

  • Avoid eating before social interaction
  • Reduction in weight
  • Unusual changes in the gastrointestinal tract
  • Malnutrition

Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED)

In this condition, it is extremely difficult to identify the exact eating disorder. However, behavior is significant enough to explain the distressing situation. UFED leaves sufficient room to apply more diagnostic tests for better identification.


This eating disorder involves the intake of foods that are not considered actual food items. This disorder is more common in toddlers, who often put different nonfood items in their mouths. They remain busy searching for different food items. Moreover, this disorder can be toxic for them as it can have serious health effects. Furthermore, the most common substances ingested in this condition include dirt, clay, paper, soap, clothes, fabric, etc. However, diagnosing this disorder is very difficult under the age of 2. Children who have autism and intellectual disability are more affected by this disorder.

Compulsive Eating

Compulsive eating involves abnormal eating patterns due to negative emotions. This eating disorder is considered as hunger. However, various underlying factors link compulsive eating and emotional regulation. In most cases, compulsive eating is considered a disordered behavioral disorder. Affected persons have to eat the food irrespective of the fact that they are hungry or not. Moreover, compulsive cheating involves two different conditions of overeating. Some people eat excess food at one time. On the other hand, ?. Grazing involves the continuous movement of the oral cavity having the food in it. This condition involves the intake of snacks throughout the day.


Orthorexia is an eating disorder that involves the obsession with clean and healthy eating. The word ortho is correct, while orexis means appetite. Affected persons prioritize the quality of food, rather than quantity. Moreover, they prefer healthy food products, including fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. On the other hand, they avoid eating unhealthy food containing high quantities of fats, cholesterol, or sugars.

Experts haven’t characterized orthorexia as an eating disorder. However, it is still considered a serious mental health disorder.

Symptoms of Orthorexia
  • Developing major standards regarding food
  • Repeated tantrums
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Facing severe difficulty in food selection
  • Strict diet schedule

How eating disorders can be diagnosed?

There are different methods which are used to diagnose eating disorders which include:

Laboratory tests

If the eating disorders cause damage to the vital body organs, different laboratory tests are recommended, which include:

  • Complete Blood count
  • Renal function tests
  • Cardiac tests including, electrocardiogram
  • Thyroid function tests
  • X-ray analysis
  • Magnetic Radiation imaging
Physical Evaluations

A physician usually performs a physical evaluation test to determine the body height, weight, or overall body mass index. Moreover, cardiac rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure are also determined. Furthermore, the abdominal region can also be checked to determine any gastric issues.

Why are eating disorders so dangerous?

Eating disorders are considered more dangerous as compared to other mental illnesses.  Different medical complications can exert a negative effect on your health. In addition, affected people cannot take the essential nutrients, which can make them more prone to serious medical conditions. There are multiple dangers of eating disorders as more people die due to suicide and side effects. Furthermore, various studies suggested that persons suffering from eating disorders have reduced lifespan as compared to healthy individuals. Although the dangers of eating disorders are infinite, their rapid recovery rate is also encouraging.

Read More: A Brief Guide to different types of OCD

Drug abuse

In severe cases, most of the person start taking alcohol or drugs to deal with depression of eating disorders. Moreover, patients with anorexia also take drugs to reduce their weight. However, weight goals can be achieved with the medications, but they can show side effects. Different studies have indicated that the eating disorders can elevate the intake rate of the following drugs:

  • Cocaine
  • Cannabis
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamines

Diabetes and Eating disorders

Diabetes is a disorder that involves the deficiency of insulin hormone. This involves an innate abnormality in pancreatic alpha cells that produce insulin. Furthermore, deficiency of insulin causes the ineffective regulation of glucose in the body. Moreover, people with type 1 diabetes are more likely to suffer from eating disorders. Because they pay extra attention to their food choices. However, increased body weight and the associated fear can also assist them in having waiting disorders.

However, type 2 diabetic patients are unable to develop the eating disorder symptoms. Despite this, diabetes is developed as a side effect of eating disorders. So, the person suffering from both medical conditions requires effective guidance and treatment from both mental health and diabetic patients.

Pregnancy and Eating disorders

Affected females can face serious complications during their pregnancy stages. Both mother and child can have serious health impacts due to a deficiency of vital body nutrients. Moreover, lack of nutrients can affect the growth and development of developing fetuses. However, severe cases can lead to abortion or miscarriage. So, pregnant ladies should avoid the risk of getting any eating disorder. This is effective for her own body as well as for the fetus. Furthermore, medical checkups at regular intervals are also required.

Misdiagnosis of eating disorders

Different eating disorders are usually misdiagnosed as different medical conditions. Moreover, most of the time, symptoms of food-restrictive disorders are considered the same as the eating disorders symptoms. For example, symptoms of anorexia and celiac disease exhibit a major resemblance.

Most of the patients affected by eating disorders also face difficulty in growth. Patients also face difficulty in dealing with the changes of adulthood.

What are the complications of eating disorders?

Various reasons make this fact distinct that is eating disorder a mental illness. If the eating disorders are left untreated, then they can cause serious complications, which include:

  1. Reduced blood pressure
  2. Cardiac arrest
  3. Severe large intestinal problems
  4. Abnormal functioning of the gastrointestinal tract
  5. Osteporosis in females
  6. Brain stroke
  7. Acid reflux

Common Mental Health Disorders Associated with Eating Disorders

Some common mental health disorders that are linked with eating disorders include

Obsessive Compulsive disorder

This disorder involves the occurrence of undesired thoughts in the mind. Moreover, individuals are involved in the compulsions to get rid of their unwanted thoughts and emotions.

Various researchers have clearly explained the strong association between OCD and eating disorders. Primarily, more than 40% of people suffering from OCD usually develop oCD symptoms. On the other hand, 17% of OCD patients usually experience different types of eating disorders.


Anxiety is one of the common mental disorders that involves the continuous and persistent feeling of fear and stress. A person cannot recover completely until the stress factors are eliminated from the person’s life. Approximately more than 40 million US adults suffer from anxiety or depression. Moreover, anxiety can not only destroy mental health but can also cause drastic changes in one personal life. Affected persons do not pay attention to their diet or nutrition and can develop an eating disorder.

Borderline personality disorder

A person suffering from this disorder is unable to regulate their emotions. This disorder is more common in women as compared to men. Moreover, lack of emotional instability can affect their personal as well as professional life. This disorder specifically involves two different situations: emotional and dramatic situations. Individuals suffering from this disorder feel extremely lonely, even in the presence of others.

Are eating disorders curable?

All eating disorders can be cured. However, an effective treatment plan is required to generate the desired outcomes. 

Immediate hospitalization

If the condition becomes severe, immediate medical services are required. This happens more in the case of anorexia nervosa. Affected persons are unable to eat for fear of gaining weight. So effective medical services are required to stabilize the symptoms. 


Medication management is also significant. Medicines alone can not effectively treat eating disorders. Medications, along with combined therapy, are essential to treat the symptoms of eating disorders.


As eating disorders involve anxiety and depression, so different antidepressants can also be used. Antidepressants target the symptoms of arising anxiety. Regulated anxiety can lead to the less severe symptoms of eating disorders.

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy is also known as psychotherapy.  It involves the sessions of a mental health expert in the required time frame. Furthermore, experts can better guide the strategies to normalize eating and behavioral patterns. Affected persons can significantly learn how to develop healthy eating habits.

Family therapy

This therapy is also effective in treating or preventing the symptoms of eating disorders. Moreover, family members, especially parents, can better understand their child and guide them to cope with eating disorders.

Appropriate knowledge of Nutrition

Persons should be aware of the significance of all essential nutrients. Any healthcare expert can better provide such nutrition. Then, a person can effectively handle the following situations:

  1. Avoid extra food choices
  2. Work for a better health state
  3. Developing effective meal plans
  4. Avoid dieting or binging episodes

Last thoughts

An eating disorder is a psychological disorder. Affected persons use the food to cope with their distressing situation. Furthermore, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge disorders are the most common eating disorders. All include unhealthy eating patterns that can adversely affect life. But eating disorders can be cured. Furthermore, different behavioral therapies are effective in treating this disorder. This article can amazingly answer the question of whether  Is eating disorder is a mental illness or not. In addition, Inland Empire Behavioural Group experts are extremely skilled and professional. You can acquire the top-notch mental services here.

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Dr. Reri Uku


Dr. Reri Uku is a board certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP-BC). Her expertise lies in her ability to provide quality, compassionate, and comprehensive mental health
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