Eating Disorders: What Causes It?

Eating disorders are very complex conditions, and scientists are still learning about the causes. Although eating disorders all have food and weight issues in common, most experts now believe that eating disorders are caused by people attempting to cope with overwhelming feelings and painful emotions by controlling food. Unfortunately, this will eventually damage a person’s physical and emotional health, self-esteem and sense of control.

Factors that may be involved in developing an eating disorder include:

  • Genetics. People with first degree relatives, siblings or parents, with an eating disorder appear to be more at risk of developing an eating disorder, too. This suggests a genetic link. Evidence that the brain chemical, serotonin, is involved also points a contributing genetic and biological factors.
  • Environment. Cultural pressures that stress “thinness” as beautiful for women and muscular development and body size for men places undue pressure on people of achieve unrealistic standards. Popular culture and media images often tie being thin to popularity, success, beauty and happiness. This creates a strong desire to very thin.
  • Peer Pressure. With young people, this can be a very powerful force. Pressure can appear in the form of teasing, bullying or ridicule because of size or weight. A history of physical or sexual abuse can also contribute to some people developing an eating disorder.
  • Emotional Health. Perfectionism, impulsive behavior and difficult relationships can all contribute to lowering a person’s self-esteem and make them vulnerable to developing eating disorders.

Eating disorders affect all types of people. However there are certain risk factors that put some people at greater risk for developing an eating disorder.

Content courtesy of National Alliance on Mental Illness. For more on this topic go here.

  • Age. Eating disorders are much more common during teens and early 20s.
  • Gender. Statistically, teenage girls and young women are more likely to have eating disorders, but they are more likely to be noticed/treated for one. Teenage boys and men are less likely seek help, but studies show that 1 out of 10 people diagnosed with eating disorders are male.
  • Family history. Having a parent or sibling with an eating disorder increases the risk.
  • Dieting. Dieting taken too far can become an eating disorder.
  • Changes. Times of change like going to college, starting a new job, or getting divorced may be a stressor towards developing an eating disorder.
  • Vocations and activities. Eating disorders are especially common among gymnasts, runners, wrestlers and dancers.