Eating disorders are characterized by dangerous eating behaviors which may be accompanied by a preoccupation with food, weight, or body size. Many people are under the 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 one developing an eating disorder. Here are a few known causes of eating disorders.
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 them have an exaggerated perception of their current weight that is matched with an equally misguided perception of what their ideal weight should be, leading to a distorted body image.
Another potential cause of an eating disorder is a life change, disruption, or transition. This may include events such as a loss of job or financial hardship. An eating disorder can be a way to cope with the stress of the event.
If one participates in a sport which emphasizes a lean body, this pressure may lead to a disorder as well. Activities where eating disorders are common include long-distance running, gymnastics, wrestling, ballet, and more.
This concept applies to one’s professional life as well. Professions such as modeling or acting place a lot of pressure on maintaining a certain weight or body image.
People with another underlying mental disorder, 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. This applies to psychological factors as well. Before jumping into treatment, it’s important to meet with a licensed therapist to discern any and all psychological factors. 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. Studies have linked PTSD and childhood trauma to the development of eating disorders later in life. Even if an eating disorder manifests during adulthood, the cause may be rooted in one’s childhood or adolescence. Physical or sexual abuse, dysfunctional family dynamics, or other types of trauma could lead to an eating disorder.
There are a number of biological factors that may contribute to an eating disorder. These factors include irregular hormone functions or 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 one’s fate. Regardless of family history, it’s important to maintain a healthy diet and relationship with his or her body.
People with anorexia in particular often develop the eating disorder—in which they essentially lose control of their eating habits—because their ability to decide what and when to eat gives them a sense of control. A significant percentage of people with anorexia nervosa describe that they felt their lives were spiraling out of control and that maintaining rigid control over their diet made them feel they were regaining control.
However, this level of control becomes an obsession and leads to dangerous eating habits. Many people with anorexia have a very distorted self-image of how heavy they appear. While their friends or family can see that they are malnourished, people with anorexia often feel overweight. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anorexia nervosa has the highest fatality rate of any mental illness.2
Eating Disorders Can Be Treated
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.