Emotional Effects Of Eating Disorders

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Poor self-esteem combined with poor body image perception and various emotional or mental health problems contribute to eating disorders. The mental and physical afflictions create a vicious cycle as a lack of proper nutrition, hydration and the physiological effects of excessive weight gain or loss exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues.

Eating Disorders and the Mind

In addition to having a poor self concept, people suffering from anorexia, bulimia or other eating disorders are often also diagnosed as having anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive or panic disorders. Eating disorders may develop as a result of a long-standing dissatisfaction of physical appearance or as a negative coping mechanism to deal with an emotional issue. Put into a state of starvation, the body relies on adrenaline for energy. Instead of calming the mind and emotions, the hyper-excitability caused by the hormone has the opposite effect.

On the other end of the spectrum, binge eaters self-soothe emotional problems by overeating fast-food carbohydrates that are typically high in fat and sugar content but void of nutritional benefits. This practice has scientific validity in that carbohydrates trigger insulin release. The hormone ensures cellular access to glucose and other nutrients needed for proper cell function. During the process, the amino acid tryptophan capably permeates the blood-brain barrier and undergoes conversion into the feel good neurotransmitter serotonin. However, poor carbohydrate choices lead to subsequent negative emotions due to excessive weight gain.


Hopelessness and sadness may exist before the eating disorder emerged. However, the stigma attached to elective starvation often causes eating disorder sufferers to further feel alone, isolated and more depressed. If binge eating causes overweight or obesity, individuals often feel more depressed because of their physical appearance.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Individuals living with eating disorders obsessively think about eating, calories, food and weight. The compulsive thinking manifests as the unhealthy and irrational physical act of starving or over eating in an attempt to mask negative emotions. Depending on the type of eating disorder an individual engages in, they may also obsessively weight themselves throughout the day, hoard food or spend an inordinate amount of time gazing at their appearance in a mirror.

Anxiety, Guilt and Self-Loathing

The majority of people experience negative emotions from time to time. However, someone living with an eating disorder feels the negativity to greater extremes. Anorexia or bulimia victims feel anxiety or fear over the fact that someone may discover their secret. While feeling ashamed of their compulsion, because of their skewed body image perception, they fear having to give up the addiction and gaining weight. Compulsive eaters also commonly feel guilty and ashamed when their compulsion leads to obesity. They may make excuses for their weight while secretly hating themselves for allowing the compulsion to continue.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "Emotional Effects Of Eating Disorders," in PsychologyDictionary.org, March 6, 2016, https://psychologydictionary.org/emotional-effects-of-eating-disorders/ (accessed October 1, 2022).