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Woman sitting in front of food struggling with causes of eating disorders and needing eating disorder therapy

What Are Some of the Causes of Eating Disorders?

By: Kristina Murr

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Eating disorders are an all-too-common mental health issue and affect millions of people worldwide. They can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background, and are often misunderstood and oversimplified, which leads to misconceptions about their root causes and how to treat them.

In reality, eating disorders are not only about food. They stem from a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. It’s important to understand the complexity of eating disorders to accurately diagnose and treat them. Let’s take a look at some of the causes of eating disorders.

Body image issues

Psychological factors, such as low self-esteem, perfectionism, and a negative body image, often contribute to the development of eating disorders. Many people with eating disorders use food and weight as a way to cope with emotional distress. Bingeing or restricting food often makes people feel a sense of control in their lives.

These underlying psychological issues have several causes, including:

  • Childhood trauma
  • Childhood issues with eating or gut problems
  • Past abuse
  • Pressures to conform to unrealistic beauty standards
  • Critical comments about weight
  • Environmental pressures

Psychological issues and environmental pressures are intertwined. Unrealistic beauty standards in society can pressure people to look a certain, unachievable way. Television, magazines, and social media typically do not show a variety of body types.

A person who doesn’t see their own body type in media can develop a hatred of the way they look. The idealization of thinness and the popularity of dieting both contribute to body image issues. In school, a person who is bullied for their weight may be more likely to develop an eating disorder, even later in life. Taking part in a sport that puts emphasis on weight or size like dancing, gymnastics, or wrestling can also perpetuate unhealthy ideas about food.

Biological predisposition

Genetics can play a big role in the development of eating disorders. Research has shown that people with a family history of eating disorders are at a higher risk of developing one themselves. While this can be due to a genetic predisposition, it also can come from growing up in a disordered household that perpetuated negative ideas about food.

Anorexia nervosa is one disorder that scientists have done gene sequencing to understand better. They found two genes consistent in those with anorexia that affects how a person responds to serotonin. There may be more genetic components that influence impulse control, appetite, and hormones.

Treatment and prevention

Eating disorders are incredibly complex. All these causes can combine to influence how a person views food and copes with stress. Treating eating disorders requires a multidisciplinary approach that combines the expertise of doctors, nutritionists, and therapists. It’s important to address the underlying psychological issues as well as the physical components to make sure a person permanently changes their relationship with food.

In terms of preventing eating disorders, promoting a wide range of body types can help people feel seen. Learning to cope with stress and developing a strong sense of self-esteem can also help. It’s also important to promote education about the dangers of dieting and the importance of intuitive eating.

Getting help

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, don’t wait to get help. Eating disorders, if left untreated, can do lasting damage to the body and even be fatal. Talk to a doctor or other medical professional about the best course of treatment. Eating disorder therapy can be a necessary part of treatment. 

Depending on the severity, you or your loved one may need to receive treatment under medical supervision. In the long run, therapy will help you develop a healthier relationship with food, change your negative thought patterns, cope with stress in a constructive way, and boost your self-esteem.

To find out more about how we can help to ask questions about eating disorder therapy, contact us today.

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