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What is the Connection Between Anorexia and Depression?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Anorexia and depression share several connections. Most people with anorexia also suffer from a poor opinion of their own appearances, which ultimately leads to depression in many people. In addition, malnutrition over time can often lead to depression because of chemical imbalances. Finally, people who are anorexic may feel like they have a secret from the rest of the world, which can make them feel alone, and feelings of loneliness often cause depression.

The fact that someone has anorexia will usually mean that he also has a problem regarding body image. When people spend their whole lives thinking they're too heavy, this can cause tremendous feelings of pressure and frustration. Self-image is often strongly tied to a person's overall feeling of well-being, and an overall absence of self-esteem may be one of the main ways anorexia and depression are associated.

Another way that anorexia and depression come together is in relation to the body's overall chemical process. The brain is actually designed to release certain chemicals that make people feel happy when they eat. These chemicals may exist partly because food has obvious survival benefits, which means it's evolutionarily desirable for people to consume it when they have a chance. If these chemicals are absent, people often become very depressed. Taking away food will sometimes automatically lead to a reduction in those chemicals, and that generally leads to depression.

Some studies have also shown that an individual's brain may actually shrink without enough food. This kind of brain damage could make the person less able to make rational decisions. Some experts believe this may be one reason it's so hard to convince anorexic people that their eating behaviors are irrational. Once people begin to eat more, much of their depression will often dissipate, and the brain can actually re-grow, which could gradually improve their overall reasoning ability.

Treating cases where anorexia and depression are connected might seem obvious at first. Most people may think the best option would simply be to convince or force people to eat until they are healthy again. In fact, this can be a dangerous approach if it isn't handled very gradually with medical supervision. When someone is trying to overcome severe anorexia, he may suffer from a potentially deadly problem called refeeding syndrome. This is because the body may be so deprived that it doesn't have the capacity to process food properly.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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