There is more to eating disorders than food — it’s about body image and triggers that are often associated with trauma, loneliness, low self-esteem, and interpersonal issues. While some people may question whether eating disorders cause loneliness or loneliness causes the eating disorder — the answer is it’s both.

There is a tie between low self-esteem and loneliness, which both feed feelings of emptiness inside. While some may eat in an attempt to feel less empty or to eat away their painful emotions, others will starve themselves as a punishment for their perceived transgressions.

An eating disorder can result in feelings of hopelessness, differentness, and self-disgust, which can lead to feelings of disconnection from both yourself and others. This disconnectedness causes loneliness and an empty feeling inside.

The Disconnect

One of the biggest struggles people with eating disorders have is how uncomfortable they feel being around other people while food is present. This can be an isolating problem because the individual will often avoid social gatherings, whether it’s work events, birthday parties, family reunions, barbecues, weddings, or even holiday dinners.

Food is a means of getting people together and that is true across many cultures. So, for people dealing with an eating disorder, it is difficult to avoid these gatherings without falling into self-doubt, loneliness, and depression.

According to research, people with eating disorders have greater social impairment compared to the general public. They are lonelier, have more mental health issues, and have suicidal ideations (

Social Withdrawal

There is an endless stream of common phrases people struggling with eating disorders will use to explain why they can’t socialize. I don’t have any friends. I can’t connect. I don’t have a life, but even if I did, what would I talk about? I don’t know how to make conversation. Nobody likes me.

They often suffer in silence. They don’t trust others. They are unwilling to share personal information, particularly in relation to their loneliness levels and eating. These are patterns they often feel in relation to their eating habits or behavior. The clinical term for this is social withdrawal syndrome. It increases the risk of death and can result in poor physical health. They are unlikely to share personal information with those closest to them, which means they are less likely to seek professional help for their disorder.

Social Isolation

When someone is dealing with an eating disorder, they aren’t the only person in the situation who experiences isolation. Their family members describe the situation as having lost their loved ones because of extreme social isolation.

It is common for those involved to feel lost when they witness their loved one engaging in the behavior. They may hide in a separate room, isolate themselves altogether, and keep secrets, which can result in the loss of friendships, the breakdown of romantic relationships, and the loss of family ties.

The more they isolate themselves, the easier it becomes to make excuses to avoid social gatherings. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel any better — the isolation still hurts. Other people give up chasing, which can sting even more.

Social Isolation & Eating Disorders

Isolation allows the individuals with an eating disorder to distance themselves from living in the here and now. If the present is painful, the isolation from an eating disorder can be an escape from it.

When an individual with an eating disorder isolates themselves because they worry about shame or humiliation, it can make them avoid those situations. Even though no shame or humiliation took place, they associate that place with those feelings.

In situations where shame or humiliation did take place, certain seemingly innocent comments revolving around food like “Is that all you’re going to eat?” can put the individual on the defense and prevent them from socializing in the future.

When someone with an eating disorder chooses to isolate themselves from social situations, it helps fuel their belief that something is wrong with them. They choose not to attend, but it can warp into a situation where they convince themselves nobody cares that they don’t attend, so what’s the point?

Isolation and loneliness breed a fear of rejection and a lack of self-worth. It glorifies shame and encourages privacy. It’s an unhealthy coping mechanism people use for anxiety and panic. If you feel nervous about socializing, you won’t feel that anxiety if you opt out of socialization. It plunges people into their disordered behavior and gives them the freedom to continue without judgment or concern from others. Unfortunately, it is also unbearable and it leads to feelings of emptiness inside. More importantly, the person struggling with an eating disorder doesn’t truly want to isolate themselves, it feels necessary.

Share Your Pain

When you share your fear and pain aloud with other people it directly challenges your narrative and invites you to tell a new story. The very idea of it is terrifying but eating disorders and feelings of emptiness often go hand in hand.

So, you need to allow yourself to be the complex person you are and open yourself to the people you trust, rather than burying your head in the sand. Start with the person closest to you, the one you trust above all others. If you’re struggling with this, start with a therapist who will work with you to build up the skills to discuss it with the people close to you.

Final Thoughts

If you are dealing with an eating disorder, you should seek professional advice from your primary care physician in the first instance. Your doctor can refer you to the correct professional, which will likely include a mental health professional.

You may feel empty inside and that may fuel some of your disordered eating, but it doesn’t need to be that way. You can regain control over your life and lead the happy existence you deserve.

If someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, you should seek advice from an expert on how best to approach the subject with them. It’s a delicate process because being found out or discovered is a terrifying prospect for someone who has gone to extreme lengths to cover up their disordered eating. Be sure to approach them with love and compassion.

Author's Bio: 

Judi Moreo is the Ultimate Achievement Coach. In addition, she is an author, an artist, a hypnotherapist, an NLP practitioner, and a television show host of “What’s Your Story?” on the WWDB-TV Network on Roku. If you would like to contact Judi, you may do so at