The link between mental health and eating disorders

Talking about the latest diet and workout trends is a pretty common conversation to have with our peers, but for some people, those discussions can be triggering. 

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According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 30 million Americans struggle with eating disorders every day. Shannon Kopp was 17 years old when she was diagnosed with bulimia and battled it for more than a decade.

"In high school, I began dieting around the same time my father's substance use disorder was spinning out of control," Kopp said. "One of them was making herself throw up, and I tried it one night and hated it, so I said I'd never do it again. And then found me doing it the next night and the next night." 

Over the course of the next decade, her eating disorder continued to spiral in and out of control. Her behaviors ranged from binge eating then vomiting, excessively working out, not eating at all, and having constant shame about her body. 

"I would get dinner with friends and feelings of shame would really pile on, and before I knew it, I'd be engaged in behaviors of binge and purging which sometimes happened up to 15 times a night," Kopp described. "I just could not control the rapidness and the intensity of the thoughts about my body, the food, the shame, and before I knew it, I would be almost like I was in a fog in this cycle, and sometimes it would last, you know, for hours."


It took Kopp more than a decade with her therapists to work on her mental and physical health in order to fully recover. However, she says some of the worst triggers with relapsing happened postpartum, after giving birth to her two sons.   

"To watch my body change in this way and then to be, you know, with a newborn, and how those messages of ‘oh, she got a body back,’ or 'oh, she's back to this size jeans would impact me,'" Kopp said. 

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Dr. Anna Brown is a licensed psychologist and clinical director at the Eating Recovery Center in The Woodlands. 

"Being a new parent, not being prepared for all that that entails can certainly evoke in folks a desire to feel in control of something," Dr. Brown said. "Trying to control food is a relatively easy thing to identify."

She also said while most patients are genetically predisposed to mental health disorders, eating disorders don’t discriminate on age, gender, and body type. 

"It really boils down to that degree of interference in their life," Dr. Brown explained. "Some people can casually diet, and it never really develops into anything more than that but for others, what starts as a casual diet becomes an obsession."

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According to the National Institute of Health, if left untreated, more severe symptoms could develop over time including:

  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Dry and yellowish skin
  • Growth of fine hair all over the body (lanugo)
  • Severe constipation
  • Slowed breathing and pulse
  • Multi-organ failure
  • Drop in internal body temperature, causing a person to feel cold all the time
  • Lethargy, sluggishness, or feeling tired all the time
  • Osteoporosis… 
  • Low blood pressure
  • Heart damage
  • Brain damage
  • Infertility.

Kopp said she now has strict rules about not dieting to maintain a healthier mindset. 


Dr. Brown recommends that anyone struggling with weight concerns post-partum, stay off social media.