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Why People Use Anorexia to Fight Anxiety and Vice Versa

Anorexia is a serious problem. Making it worse is the way that social media has started to glorify it, renaming it in a way that makes it seem positive like "Thinspo" and "Pro-Ana." Anorexia is running rampant in society, and unfortunately it's starting to have deadly consequences.

Anorexia requires a commitment to treatment, and society needs to start addressing this issue much more thoroughly. One of the issues that appears to be leading to the development of anorexia is anxiety, which is why anxiety is extremely important to address for those with anorexic tendencies.

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The Heart of Your Anorexia

Anorexia is about control. While it may seem like a disorder about looks or attraction, the reality is that most people suffering from anorexia understand that skin and bones in unattractive. But anorexia glorifies that degree of ill health because it creates a sense of control over their looks and their body.

Anxiety is a loss of control. Anxiety is when a person feels as though they cannot handle the pressures of life, as though everything around them is essentially crumbling. My anxiety test is the best place to start, but it's easy to see why many people with anorexia may have first had anxiety. Anorexia may have been their coping mechanism.

Indeed, according to research, anxiety disorders in those with anorexia are extremely common, and in almost all cases developed before the eating disorder did.

A Dangerous and Counterproductive Coping Mechanism

Of course, skipping meals to cope with anxiety is not only dangerous - it also doesn't work. That sense of control also puts considerable stress on the brain and body, which are being deprived of nutrients.

Over time, the lack of nutrition and carbohydrates is actually going to start causing anxiety itself. Whenever the mind doesn't have enough energy to work properly, it causes the brain to become stressed, which in turn causes stressful thoughts and behaviors.

This may explain one of the many reasons that anorexia is so hard to cure, and why even those that do get help sometimes find themselves slipping. It takes a long time to learn healthier ways to cope with anxiety, and unfortunately while you're learning those new ways you may find yourself struggling with further anxiety, thus pushing you back towards negative behaviors.

Anorexia and Anxiety

Not all anorexia is caused by anxiety, and in some cases the anxiety can actually develop after the person already has anorexia, not before. Body dysmorphic disorder is a serious problem, and one that can have a complex number of causes - more than anxiety alone.

Indeed, the way people see themselves is often shaped by numerous life events. Studies have shown that those with anorexia will always see "weight" and "fat" even when it's not there, and start to associate a skeleton-like appearance as a way to break free of those labels, even though in the end they can never truly reach that goal.

So that's why if you suffer from anorexia, you should immediately seek help from a trained professional. Your disorder is a disorder - it's something that you are going to have unless you treat it, much like a disease. Trained anorexia experts can work with you to help you understand how to rebuild your life again in a way that is both healthy and meets your psychological needs.

You should also consider working on your anxiety in the interim. Anxiety may be one of the issues fueling your anorexia, and if it is then you need to reduce it if you want to help control your anxiety.

So contact a psychologist, and consider taking my free 7 minute anxiety test. This test will teach you more about your anxiety and give you an opportunity to learn more about potential treatments.

Start the test here.


Kaye, Walter H., et al. Comorbidity of anxiety disorders with anorexia and bulimia nervosa. American Journal of Psychiatry 161.12 (2004): 2215-2221.

Godart, N. T., et al. Anxiety disorders in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa: co-morbidity and chronology of appearance. European Psychiatry 15.1 (2000): 38-45.

Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.

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