Anxiety disorders are highly comorbid with anorexia nervosa, meaning that the former will often be diagnosed in people who will also be diagnosed with the latter. “Anorexia nervosa typically involves excessive weight loss or failure to gain expected weight and is characterized by immoderate food restriction and fear of gaining weight, as well as a failure to recognize the seriousness of the low weight” (Meier et al. 2015). Most people who have anorexia nervosa have also been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and the diagnosis of the anxiety disorder usually comes before the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa (Meier et al. 2015). Even people with anorexia nervosa who lack an anxiety disorder diagnosis report higher levels of anxiety than people without anorexia nervosa, suggesting that the two mental health disorders are associated with one another (Meier et al. 2015). The most apparent link between anxiety disorders and anorexia nervosa is an intense fear. For people with anorexia nervosa, the fear is of putting on weight, as stated earlier; for people with the anxiety disorder of social phobia, for example, the fear is of being judged poorly by others.
But, as most science-related classes will teach us at one point or another, correlation does not equal causation, so an individual may have an anxiety disorder and never develop anorexia nervosa, or another individual will develop an anxiety disorder and soon after develop anorexia nervosa. Either way, that individual with an anxiety disorder would be considered at a significantly higher risk for developing anorexia nervosa later on because of their anxiety disorder, as demonstrated by a Danish population registration study by Meier et al. (2015).
Getting treatment to patients with anxiety disorders then becomes even more pertinent because it would not only help them with that mental health disorder but it would also reduce their risk of developing comorbid disorders like anorexia nervosa. Just as well, conducting research and gathering data on mental health patients who experience this comorbidity—and, just as importantly, those who do not—helps us to understand both the people afflicted with mental health disorders as well as those disorders themselves.
Meier, S.M., et al. (2015). Diagnosed Anxiety Disorders and the Risk of Subsequent Anorexia Nervosa: A Danish Population Register Study. European Eating Disorders Review, 23 (6), 524-530.