What Can Cause an Eating Disorder This Emotional Life on PBS

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Eating disorders

		

Causes

There is no single cause of eating disorders.

Eating disorders are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Several predisposing factors can influence their development. The issues include low self-esteem, feeling a lack of control over one’s life, or being in an environment or culture that emphasizes thinness or a specific body type. Also, a history of depression, anxiety, or substance abuse may increase the potential for developing eating disorders. The Academy for Eating Disorders notes that some studies suggest there is a genetic link to eating disorders.
 
Other studies have found that lower levels of brain chemicals, such as serotonin, may be involved. An Academy of Eating Disorders position paper states, “emerging science … affirms with a reasonable degree of medical and scientific certainty that eating disorders are significantly heritable [and] influenced by alterations of brain function.”

Risk factors

Risk factors

Gender: Girls in their teens and young women face a higher likelihood of developing eating disorders compared with male teens and young men.

Age: Eating disorders are more common during the teenage years and into the early 20s, although they are also seen in people both much younger and much older.

Familial environment:
Those whose families make teasing remarks about appearance or are overly critical tend to be at higher risk of disordered eating.

Psychological factors: Depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders can play a role in the development of eating disorders.

Life’s changes: Changes such as starting college, getting a new job, moving, or breaking up from a significant relationship can be upsetting. One way of coping in uncontrollable situations is to grab on to something one can control, such as weight or eating behaviors. If taken too far, changed eating habits can lead to an eating disorder.

Sports, arts, entertainment:
Athletes, dancers, actors, television personalities and others in the media, sports, or entertainment are at increased risk of developing eating disorders. Coaches and parents may unintentionally contribute to disordered eating by encouraging athletes to “just shed a few pounds.” Images in the media, too, can play an influential role, where significant emphasis is placed on body shape and size.

Find Help

Locate mental health and well-being support organizations in your area.