Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder with one of the highest mortality rates of all psychiatric disorders.
The illness, which usually starts in adolescence, is difficult to treat. Only around half of those treated recover, so preventing it is really important. However, to effectively prevent a disorder, you need to be able to identify the early signs.
Restrictive eating, restricting the number of calories or quantity of food consumed, is not only a core feature of anorexia but it is also an early symptom that precedes anorexia onset. In our latest study we wanted to understand whether anxiety disorders predicted restrictive eating.
We were interested in a particularly severe form of restrictive eating, which was fasting for an entire day for weight control (losing weight or avoiding weight gain). We assessed whether having an anxiety disorder predicted how likely people were to fast in the future, two years after the anxiety assessment.
Previously, researchers found that people with anorexia had higher rates of anxiety disorders compared with the general population. This led some scientists to suggest that restrictive eating may reduce anxiety in people who are at risk of developing anorexia. The reduction in anxiety resulting from restrictive eating may then encourage restrictive eating to continue.