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What Causes Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders are brain-based, biological illnesses with a strong genetic component and a psychosocial influence. 

 

Contributing Factors (May Include)

Biological factors

Eating disorders often run in families. Risk of developing an eating disorder is 50-80% determined by genetics. Women with a mother or sister who has/has had Anorexia Nervosa are 12 times more likely than others to develop it themselves. They are four times more likely to develop Bulimia.

 

Also, once individuals begin to starve themselves, binge eat, or purge, those behaviors in and of themselves can alter brain chemistry and exacerbate the eating disorder.

Social factors

With unrealistic pressures to obtain the "perfect" body, the constant influx of images of perfection, and narrow definitions of beauty, the media and societal expectations definitely influence our self-esteem and self-worth. From a very early age, we learn that in order to be accepted, we must emulate the messages we were taught by various outlets (such as "thin is beautiful" and other "standards of beauty"). According to Dr. Linda Smolak, Ph.D, "The average woman is 5"4' and weighs 140 pounds. The average model is 5"11' and weighs 117 pounds. Most fashion models are thinner than 98% of American women."

Psychological factors

Eating disorders have substantial co-morbidity with other mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and personality disorders.

Interpersonal factors

History of abuse: Studies have shown that there are a high number of people suffering with eating disorders who have been subjected to some form of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. Many of these people have found that their eating disorders help to protect them, repress or block out the memories, or numb their feelings.

 

Being teased for size or weight: If an individual was constantly made fun of (name-calling, jokes, etc.) when he/she was growing up, he/she might be inclined to turn to/away from food as a coping mechanism.

 

Traumatic life event(s): Disordered eating may arise as a result of a death, loss, or abandonment. Because of an inability to mourn and/or cope, the individual will attempt to numb his/her feelings through restriction, bingeing and purging, or bingeing.

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