Can Depression Be Caused By Malnutrition From an Eating Disorder?

Woman Dealing With a negative body image

Eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, are complex psychiatric illnesses that involve multiple risk factors, including biological and environmental components.

A high percentage of individuals who struggle with an eating disorder also have a co-occurring mood disorder, such as depression. There are various forms of depressive disorders that can develop alongside an eating disorder, including seasonal depression, postpartum depression, and major depressive disorder, which is the most common form of depression to co-occur [1].

Factors Contributing to Depression

There is some debate as to which might occur first in an individual who develops comorbid depression and an eating disorder.

Man Experiencing Sadness

In some instances, a person with underlying depression and associated symptoms, such as low self-esteem, poor body image, etc., may develop an eating disorder in part as a way to manage their depression. On the other side of things, research has indicated that poor eating habits and resulting malnutrition can exacerbate depression in someone who may be predisposed to developing a mood disorder. Studies in the field of neuropsychiatry have demonstrated a link between nutrition and depression [2].

Depression is influenced by an imbalance of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. There are also many nutrients that are critical for optimal brain function and health, including both mood and memory.

This includes omega-3 fatty acids, iron, vitamin D, folate, iodine, zinc, B-vitamins and various amino acids in addition to the major macronutrients, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Deficiencies in any of these nutrients can directly influence mood disorders like depression, and potentially decrease effectiveness of antidepressant therapy for depression.

For someone who may be dealing with an eating disorder and abnormal eating habits, the resulting malnutrition and nutrient deficiency can contribute to depression.

Addressing Nutrient Deficiencies From Disordered Eating

Many eating disorder treatment centers prioritize refeeding before incorporating any form of psychotherapy, as addressing nutritional concerns is essential to alleviating many symptoms of mood disorders and depression. Improving symptoms of depression related to malnutrition can also support other crucial elements of treatment, including psychotherapy and medication management.

If you are struggling with depression and an eating disorder, seeking out comprehensive treatment can address the various complex factors you may be dealing with, including malnutrition resulting from an eating disorder and co-occurring mood disorders, like depression.

Whether the onset of depression occurred before the eating disorder or the behaviors of the eating disorder resulted in depressive symptoms, a comprehensive treatment plan can promote holistic healing.


Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal is a Contributing Writer for Eating Disorder Hope.

Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing,

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH and nutrition private practice.


[1]: Mischoulon, D. et al. (2011). Depression and eating disorders: treatment and course. Journal of Affective Disorders, 130, 470-477.
[2]: Rao, T. S. S., Asha, M. R., Ramesh, B. N., & Rao, K. S. J. (2008). Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 50(2), 77–82.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on May 27, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 24, 2017.
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