I wrote a personal yet public letter once which I used to address a group whom attended a local Suicide Prevention Day, to provide them some insight to the link between depression, eating disorders and suicide. The below is an additional note I am adding, several years after my first public meeting:
You need to understand that you don’t just get anorexia; it is not a contagious disease that you end up with due to a weak immune system or because you were exposed to a virus. Anorexia (or any eating disorder) doesn’t start off as that, a something you can diagnose and therefor treat with medicine. It is a complex mental disorder in which its symptoms is that of food deprivation, binge eating, purging, weight loss, hair loss, ext. Anxiety and panic attacks are often (if not a given) associated with most mental illnesses and with depression classified as a mental illness of its own. In my opinion (and solely based on my own experience), over time you develop a mental block due to exposure to things such as a broken family, marriage separation, disappointment, striving for perfection, loneliness, disapproval, rejection, and so forth. This mental block is often what then causes an addictive behaviour, and when it manifests itself around food you become either depended on food or reject food. The treatment for an eating disorder should then also focus on healing the person from what is causing the mental block, working through insecurities they have surrounding food intake, and then once they have become more self-assured and focussed on healing their mind should attention be placed on what they eat and how much they eat.
I read this article posted online about the association with anorexia and bulimia to that of a phobia, and I must say it is certainly one of the better explanations I have read to explain this to those who don’t understand. In this article the author mentions that image you have a phobia, for instance arachnophobia (and for many people this fear is very real). Imagine the uneasiness being around a spider, even the thought of a spider in a nearby vicinity causes a surge of fear. The panic attacks, screaming, crying, jumping at the sight of a spider, breathing difficulties, excessive sweating or even heart trouble. In severe cases the image of a spider can cause the same effect. Phobias are real, and they are according to me similar to the mental block described above. Scientists believe that phobias can be traced to a combination of genetic tendencies, brain chemistry and other biological, psychological, and environmental factors.
Now, replace spiders or height with food, a fear of food, a fear of the effects food consumption can have. Yes, it is unrealistic because those of us that are of “rational” mind, knows that food is in no way harmful. But to the anxious mind of an anorexic, it is like poison, yet it is the one things that they will avoid even though it is the only thing that can save them.