Are Anxiety, Depression and Eating Disorders Inextricably Linked?

Contributed by: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC, Founder of Eating Disorder Hope and Crystal Kargas, MS, RDN.

Anxiety. It happens as a part of everyday life and can be useful in many instances. Anxiety alerts us to danger and can even help us escape when a perilous situation may be unavoidable. If it persists as a constant worry or concern, however, it may become a slippery slope down a path to other disorders, including eating disorders and depression. Since anxiety, depression and eating disorders all have negative feelings and low self-esteem in common1, it’s not surprising that there are links between the disorders.

Our history may provide some clues into how these three are connected. Research reveals that the past may serve as a predictor of the future by revealing the potential for these disorders to take root. Each of these disorders also serves as triggers for the others. Statistics state that 60 to 70 percent of the time, when an individual has an eating disorder, an anxiety disorder also exists. Even before an eating disorder begins in children, traits associated with anxiety disorder make themselves known.

Anxiety isn’t the only factor at play here. As many as half of all people with binge eating disorder are depressed or have been depressed in the past2. When we look at anorexia, for example, the research shows that malnourishment can intensify depressive symptoms3. What seems to stump researchers is similar to the chicken and the egg conundrum. Does one issue develop and then lead to other issues? The question still remains unanswered as study results validate both experiences.

What is understood is that anxiety, depression and eating disorders all seem to be interconnected. Since they do often occur with one another, it is important to address all of these issues during the treatment process. Recovery from one does not guarantee recovery from the others4, however, there is significant data that shows if one of the three conditions is not identified and addressed, it has the ability to significantly interfere with the process of recovery and be a contributing factor to relapses.


1. Eating Disorders Victoria.

2., Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

3. The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt.

4. Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).


Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 18th, 2014
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