Why Are People Anorexic? Exploring Possible Causes of Anorexia

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Why are People Anorexic? Body Image

Probably the most common answer to this question is based on the influence of society and the media on the body image of today’s women (and, to a lesser degree, men). The Western world tends to equate thinness with success. This perception is bolstered by the media’s portrayal of models who are abnormally tall and thin. This can adversely affect people’s body images, making them feel that they are overweight or “ugly” when, in fact, they are at a healthy weight for their height. Dieting is becoming more and more common in recent years, and the National Eating Disorders Association has even found that 92 percent of college-bound women have dieted in the past in order to lose weight, and 22 percent of those women are “often” or “always” on a diet.

Perfectionism and Control

People who develop anorexia often exhibit perfectionist tendencies. They want everything in life to be perfect - from stellar grades to the perfect birthday party. It is impossible, however, for people to control all aspects of their lives. After all, other people interfere with the best-laid plans, and various external problems do so as well. In some cases, anorexia may stem from a need to control at least one part of life: food intake. Therefore, people who feel the need to control their environments may begin exhibiting symptoms of anorexia.

Why are People Anorexic? Traumatic Experiences

People who have been through traumatic experiences may cite these as reasons for becoming anorexic. Traumatic experiences may include those as severe as grieving over the death of a loved one or as seemingly fleeting as failing a class in school or starting a new job. After these experiences, people may begin to focus on food to give themselves a distraction from the emotional pain or the stressful feelings that they wish to avoid. In addition, traumatic experiences such as sexual abuse can lead people to try to lose weight in order to take on a less developed body, which they consciously or subconsciously hope will allow them to avoid future abuse.

Serotonin Imbalance

The last possible answer to the question “Why are people anorexic?” is less psychological and more biological. According to this theory, a person may have a variant of serotonin receptors that genetically predisposes them to high levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that can lead to anxiety and other problems when its levels are too high.

However, when food is withheld serotonin levels decrease and the person feels calmer and more at ease . Therefore those with this genetic variation may self-starve in order to reduce anxiety. Although this lowers serotonin levels, it may lower them too much, leading to depression. When the person eats again, serotonin levels may skyrocket, which again causes high levels of anxiety.


Family Doctor. “Anorexia Nervosa.” https://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/mentalhealth/eating/063.html

Healthtree. “What Causes Anorexia? Social Pressure, Psychology, or Serotonin?” https://www.healthtree.com/articles/eating-disorders/anorexia/causes/

Lindsey Hall & Monika Ostroff. “Anorexia - Why Do People Become Anorexic?” https://www.bulimia.com/client/client_pages/anorexia2.cfm