The Causes of Eating Disorders

The Causes of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are serious conditions related to persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact your health, your emotions and your ability to function in important areas of life. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. Most eating disorders revolve around hyper-fixating on your weight, body shape and food, leading to dangerous eating behaviors. These behaviors can significantly impact your body’s ability to get appropriate nutrition and can cause serious harm to health. With treatment, you can return to healthier eating habits and sometimes reverse serious complications caused by the eating disorder. To best understand and get treatment for your eating disorder, or that of a loved one, it’s important to first understand the causes of eating disorders.


Eating disorders (EDs) are complex disorders, influenced by many different factors. Though the exact cause of eating disorders is unknown, it’s typically believed that a combination of biological, psychological, and/or environmental abnormalities contribute to the development of these illnesses, as well as a handful of general risk factors.


Biological Factors

Certain people may have genes or other biological factors going on inside that increase their risk of developing eating disorders. These biological factors can include:

  • Changes in brain chemicals can play a role in eating disorders.
  • Irregular hormone functions
  • Genetics
  • Nutritional deficiencies


Psychological Factors

People with eating disorders may have psychological and emotional problems that contribute to the disorder. Some examples of these contributing factors are:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Perfectionism
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Troubled relationships


Environmental Factors

Another large contributor to eating disorders can be the physical and emotional environment a person is in. These factors can include:

  • Dysfunctional family dynamic
  • Professions and careers that promote being thin and weight loss, such as ballet and modeling
  • Aesthetically oriented sports, where an emphasis is placed on maintaining a lean body for enhanced performance (i.e. rowing, diving, gymnastics, wrestling, long distance running, etc.)
  • Family and childhood traumas (childhood sexual abuse, severe trauma)
  • Cultural and/or peer pressure among friends and co-workers
  • Stressful transitions or life changes


Risk Factors

Although anyone can experience eating disorders, teenage girls and young women (especially in the teens and early 20s) are much more likely to have anorexia or bulimia. This, and other risk factors may increase the risk of developing an eating disorder, including:

  • Family history. Eating disorders are significantly more likely to occur in people who have parents or siblings who’ve had an eating disorder.
  • Other mental health disorders. People with an eating disorder often have a history of an anxiety disorder, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Dieting and starvation. Dieting can be a tricky line to walk, as it can lead to unintentional starvation. Starvation affects the brain and influences mood changes, rigidity in thinking, anxiety and reduction in appetite. Starvation and weight loss may change the way the brain works in vulnerable individuals, which may perpetuate restrictive eating behaviors and make it difficult to return to normal eating habits.
  • Going off college, moving, landing a new job, or a family or relationship issue, change can bring stress, which may increase your risk of an eating disorder.


If you believe that any of these causes have affected you, whether you are currently suffering from an eating disorder, are in active recovery, or identify as fully recovered, Recovery From Anorexia can help. Run by Meredith, an eating disorder survivor and Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Recovery From Anorexia aims to help others who struggle with eating disorders by inspiring hope, and sharing the skills and resources necessary to battle and beat this disease. This blog also provides information, support, and guidance during this process for loved ones of people who battle eating disorders, professionals, supporters, and anyone affected by an eating disorder. For more help or information, reach out to Meredith today.


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