What Causes Eating Disorders? A Look at some of the Common Causes

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Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are very complicated diseases that may occur for various reasons. Knowing the cause or causes can help with the treatment and recovery process.

What Causes Eating Disorders?

While research studies have shown that eating disorders can occur for any number of reasons, scientists are still trying to pinpoint exactly what causes them. If an eating disorder sufferer begins to understand what may have caused the illness it can be a little easier to treat and recover from, but it’s still a long process that requires patience. To understand what causes eating disorders, let’s take a look at a few of the possibilities.

Major Life Changes or Disruptions

Situations such as divorce, the loss of a loved one or relocating can all create serious amounts of stress in some people that could ultimately lead to an eating disorder. A big change can cause great amounts of stress which can lead to other psychological problems such as depression or anxiety if not dealt with properly.

Genetics & Family Eating Patterns

The way a family views food and dieting can have a huge impact on all members of the household. For example, if a parent is dieting and constantly worrying about their weight then other people in the house may begin to worry and become obsessed with their own weight even if they really have no reason to. In addition, if there are family members who have suffered or are currently suffering from an eating disorder then other people in the family are more likely to develop an eating disorder as well.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, research has indicated that “anorexia is 8 times more common in people who have relatives with the disorder”.

Low Self-Esteem

Those who have low self-esteem or have hard time dealing with social situations may be at risk of developing an eating disorder. With low self-esteem also comes depression and anxiety in many cases. These are known to be underlying causes of eating disorders.

Traumatic Events

When a person goes through a traumatic experience whether it’s sexual abuse, physical violence or another type of negative event, people may develop an eating disorder to shy away from what has happened to them. Instead of focusing on their trauma they will turn to food in order to feel in control of their body.

Pre-Existing Psychiatric Illnesses

Eating disorders will often stem from a psychiatric illness such as depression or anxiety. It’s true that eating disorders begin when there is an obsession with food but the need to control the body’s food intake so intensely is likely to stem from a different underlying cause.


NationalEatingDisorders.org: “What Causes Eating Disorders?” https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/nedaDir/files/documents/handouts/WhatCaus.pdf

UMM.edu: “Eating Disorders - Causes” https://www.umm.edu/patiented/articles/what_causes_eating_disorders_000049_3.htm