What Causes An Eating Disorder? The Most Common Culprits

The question of what causes an eating disorder has no one answer. In this guide, we'll help you understand the factors that work to produce this problem.

Around 28.8 million Americans will have an eating disorder (ED) in their lifetime. Different types of eating disorders can include anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge eating disorder (BED). All these EDs can affect people of all races, ages, body types, and genders. 

But what causes an eating disorder? 

As with most mental illnesses, there are many different contributing factors. Keep reading to find out some of the most common risk factors for disordered eating. 

Mental Health Issues

Not everyone with an ED has other mental health issues. But many ED sufferers do show signs of mental health risk factors. These can include depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and PTSD following childhood trauma. For example, this 2016 study found a link between depressive symptoms, low self-esteem, and binge-eating.

It’s important to understand, though, that mental health issues are not exactly causes of eating disorders. Rather, they are converging factors that can present in the same patient. 

Disordered Body Image 

Risk factors related to body image may also tie into the development of eating disorders. Body image issues can include having a fixation with a thin body and body dissatisfaction. Those with BN, for example, often equate thinness with attractiveness, have a negative body image, and feel an internalized pressure to be thin. 

Social Stressors

Social stressors can also have an impact on disordered eating patterns. For example, peer pressure, bullying, and critical comments about weight may fuel the concept of an ideal body shape and the “need” to diet. 

Disordered Relationship with Food 

Many people have an unhealthy relationship with food without ever developing a diagnosable eating disorder. At the same time, though, it’s much more common for those who do show disordered eating patterns to also have a disordered relationship with food.

Signs of an unhealthy relationship with food include restricting or overeating foods, labeling foods “good” and “bad”, and feeling shame and guilt after eating. If these patterns sound familiar, this advice from uncraverx.com may help you recognize your triggers and enjoy a healthier relationship with food. 

Genetic Factors

Coming from a family with a history of ED can increase an individual’s risk of also developing an eating disorder. Some of this risk may be due to modeling disordered eating, such as seeing a family member restricting their food intake. 

Although, twin research confirms that between 40 and 60 percent of the risk for AN, BN, and BED comes from genetic influence. This isn’t to say that genetic factors cause ED, though. Rather, it would suggest that those who go on to develop ED may share the same inherited traits, such as anxiety, negative urgency, fear, and perfectionism. 

Understanding What Causes an Eating Disorder

As this list shows, there is no one answer to the question “what causes an eating disorder?”

But, with this information to guide your understanding, some of the many possible contributing factors should now be a lot clearer. 

Want more health insights and news? Be sure to check out our other blog posts for all the latest on everything from mental illness to disease prevention. 

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