Is anorexia a disease? Learn how researchers define disease and whether they consider anorexia to be one.

Is anorexia a disease? Anorexia is a physical and mental health condition that changes the way the brain operates. However, researchers have not come to a consensus as to whether anorexia is a disease because the definition of the term “disease” varies.

What is a disease? The definition of this term has evolved. Merriam-Webster defines a disease as a condition that alters normal functioning in plants and animals. says that a disease is a pathological condition that results from various causes, such as a genetic defect or an infection.

The medical organization Mayo Clinic refers to anorexia as a disease that is caused by psychological biological and environmental factors. However, a 2002 report published by the federal government stated that some health insurance companies could refuse coverage for people with anorexia. The insurers did not consider the condition to be a physical disease.

Anorexia is a psychological disorder because it alters neurological functioning. People who experience anorexia become preoccupied with food and obsessed with achieving a specific body image. They may also deal with irritability, angry outbursts and insomnia.

Some studies found that anorexia may be genetic. People who have a family history of anorexia are at an increased risk of experiencing anorexia. Biological, psychological and environmental factors can contribute to developing anorexia, which supports that idea that the eating disorder is a disease. However, further research must be done to confirm the theory that anorexia is a disease.

Treatment and education can teach people to better manage anorexia. Treatment for anorexia allows medical professionals to support patients with this eating disorder in a safe and secure environment. The tools learned during treatment can reduce a person’s risk of experiencing a setback in their recovery.


Merriam-Webster. “Definition of Disease.” (n.d.) Accessed February 19, 2019. “Disease.” (n.d.) Accessed February 19, 2019.

U.S. Senate Commission on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. “Testimony of the Eating Disorders Coalit[…]Policy & Action.” April 25, 2002. Accessed February 19, 2019.

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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.