Published On: Sep 13, 2018|Categories: Eating Disorder Information|

Eating disorders are frequently attributed to low self-esteem and poor body image, but the underlying origin of these conditions is often much deeper. 

Disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating are not a choice, but are classified as mental illnesses and can affect people at all stages of life. Psychological, social and/or physical causes are frequently at the core of every diagnosis, but individual situations and experiences, plus the client’s overall emotional health, require much more than just a cookie cutter solution for holistic recovery.

Eating disorder causes 

No singular occurrence is guaranteed to result in an eating disorder. For example, diets have been negatively linked to eating disorders, but not everyone who diets develops an eating disorder. Also, not every individual who undergoes a traumatic event will seek to cope with unhealthy eating habits. 

Many have concluded that an eating disorder doesn’t have just one cause, but is likely rooted in a combination of various psychological, social and physical factors.  


Eating disorders do not primarily develop from lacking a healthy body image. While an unhealthy preoccupation regarding food, body weight and appearance typically characterize eating disorders, the root of the problem lies deeper. 

Those struggling with an eating disorder tend to show certain psychological symptoms or are struggling from an emotional taxing experience, including: 

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); 
  • Panic disorder;
  • Phobias;
  • Pressures at work or school, such as tight deadlines or overwhelming expectations;
  • Grief or the loss of a loved one;
  • Other stressful life incidents, such as divorce, job loss, bullying;
  • Abuse of some form. 

These experiences, coupled with unpleasant, difficult emotions, can cause individuals to turn towards disordered eating habits as a means of exercising control over their life or otherwise cope with these thoughts and emotions.


Both men and women tend to develop their body images from the culture around them, but unfortunately this does little to benefit one’s emotional health. Everything, from ads to social media posts to images at the mall communicates in a distorted, false way what it means to be beautiful, worthy, accepted, etc. It’s hard to shut these voices out, especially if one’s sense of self worth doesn’t come from within.

However, these societal ideals are all but impossible to achieve, leading to feelings of low self-esteem, lacking confidence and dissatisfaction with one’s appearance.

Additionally, during a battle with an eating disorder, it is likely that feelings of guilt and shame will develop and lead to intense isolation as one seeks to cut themselves off from friends and family for fear of being discovered or judged. This loneliness and lack of self-worth becomes a cycle that encourages eating disorder habits.


The longer an individual struggles with an eating disorder, the greater the risk to his or her health as their body is deprived of necessary vitamins and minerals. While each eating disorder has its own list of symptoms, general signs of an eating disorder include:

  • Dehydration;
  • Low energy levels and/or fatigue;
  • Lower body temperature;
  • A slow and/or irregular heartbeat;
  • A hyper-focus on food in some capacity, via restriction or binging;
  • A method of compensation, such as purging or over-exercising.

These symptoms and others may occur over a slow period of time, but left untreated they can eventually develop into a fatal condition as the body continues to be deprived of vital nutrients.

Dual diagnosis

Eating disorders can often develop alongside other disorders like depression, mood swings, anxiety and even substance abuse in a condition known as dual diagnosis. Past emotional trauma or growing up in certain abusive or neglectful environments also increases the risk of developing co-occurring disorders in adolescents. 

For a person battling dual diagnosis in the form of an eating disorder coupled with another mental health condition like depression, anxiety or substance use disorder, it’s crucial to the success of treatment to locate a treatment center that focuses on addressing both disorders. Attempting to treat just the eating disorder with the hope that the co-occurring substance use disorder, for example, goes away won’t permanently help the client, but will, in fact, increase the risk of relapse.

Additionally, both disorders are likely to cause mental health complications, and in order to overcome these and return to a healthy mental, emotional and physical state, a holistic treatment plan focused on the individual needs of the client promises highest quality of care. 

Eating disorders and emotional health

Understanding the causes behind eating disorders and the roots that go deeper than body image distortion is critical in recognizing and addressing the signs related to eating disorders. Mental health professionals, such as the staff at Seeds of Hope, understand this and strive to address the root of the problem and any co-occurring mental health conditions.

To set up an appointment with a therapist today, contact Seeds of Hope at 610-644-6464 today. 

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