Eating disorders are characterized by dangerous eating behaviors, which may be accompanied by a preoccupation with food, weight or body size. There is a common misconception that eating disorders are lifestyle choices, when in fact they are a serious mental illness. As such, they are unlikely to be resolved without treatment.
There are many possible causes of eating disorders, which stem from environmental, psychological and biological factors. It’s important to remember that more than one factor may lead to the development of an eating disorder. In each case, it can be difficult to know exactly what causes an eating disorder because of these potential factors.
Reference the below details for more information on some of the most common eating disorder causes.
The types of environmental factors that tend to contribute to eating disorders are often related to public perception of an ideal figure. The almost exclusive use of idealized bodies in media reinforces this idea. Consequently, both men and women can feel immense pressure to control their weight. Unfortunately, many of us have an exaggerated perception of our current weight that is matched with an equally misguided perception of what our ideal weight should be.
Ultimately, this disparity can lend itself to a distorted body image.
Participating in sports and activities that emphasize a lean body can also add additional pressure that can trigger an eating disorder.
Activities where eating disorders are common include:
- Long-distance running;
- Beach volleyball;
- Figure skating;
- Dance, particularly ballet.
The concept of environmental triggers applies to our professional lives as well. Professions such as modeling or acting place a lot of pressure on maintaining a certain weight or body image.
Another potential cause of an eating disorder is a life change, disruption or transition. This may include events such as financial hardship or loss of employment. An eating disorder can be an unhealthy way to cope with the stress of the event.
Those of us who have underlying mental disorders, like depression or anxiety, are at greater risk of developing an eating disorder. Poor self-esteem and negative body image are also frequently present in people with eating disorders.
It’s important to remember that eating disorders are rarely caused by a single factor, including psychological factors. Before jumping into treatment, consider meeting with a licensed therapist, someone who can help you reach the root of any and all psychological factors you face. This may result in a more accurate diagnosis, which will help make treatment more effective. If there is a co-occurring mental health disorder present, treatment should address both disorders at the same time.
Trauma and eating disorders
Trauma is one of the strongest risk factors for eating disorders, and there are links between PTSD, childhood trauma and the development of eating disorders later in life. At times, the cause of an eating disorder may be rooted in childhood or adolescence. Physical or sexual abuse, dysfunctional family dynamics or other types of trauma could lead to an eating disorder, even after the traumatic events have occurred.
Those of us struggling with anorexia—in which we essentially lose control of our eating habits—experience involuntary fluctuations in eating habits. A significant percentage of people challenged with anorexia nervosa describe that they felt their lives were spiraling and that maintaining rigid control over their diet made them feel they were taking back their quality of life.
This level of control, however, will inevitably become an obsession and lead to dangerous, disordered eating habits. Many people suffering with anorexia maintain a distorted self-image of how heavy they appear. While their friends or family can see that they are malnourished, people challenged by anorexia often feel overweight. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anorexia nervosa has the highest fatality rate of any mental illness.
There are a number of biological factors that may contribute to an eating disorder. These factors include irregular hormone functions and an imbalance of chemicals in the brain.
While clinical trials are ongoing, there is research to suggest a link between genetics and eating disorders. If a family member has suffered from anorexia, bulimia or another disorder, there is a chance you may be at risk.
It’s important to remember that these studies do not predetermine our fates. Regardless of family history, it is possible to maintain a healthy diet and relationship with our bodies.
Eating disorders can be treated
So, what causes eating disorders? Oftentimes, the cause is the combination of environmental, psychological and biological factors.
Regardless of age, gender or family history, eating disorders can affect anyone. If you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, Seeds of Hope is here to help. Call (610) 644-6464 to speak to a member of our admissions team today.