Eating is controlled by many factors, including appetite; food availability; family, peer, and cultural practices; and attempts at voluntary control. Dieting to a body weight leaner than needed for health is highly promoted by current fashion trends, sales campaigns for special foods, and in some activities and professions.
An eating disorder involves serious disturbances in eating behavior, such as an extreme and unhealthy reduction of food intake or severe overeating, as well as feelings of distress or extreme concern about body shape or weight.
While there is no single known cause of eating disorders, several things may contribute to their development:
- Culture. The United States has a social and cultural ideal of extreme thinness. Women partially define themselves by how physically attractive they are.
- Personal characteristics. Feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, and poor self-image often accompany eating disorders.
- Other emotional disorders. Other mental health problems, like depression or anxiety, often occur along with eating disorders.
- Stressful events or life changes. Things like starting a new school or job, being teased, or experiencing traumatic events like rape can lead to the onset of eating disorders.
- Biology. Studies are being done to look at genes, hormones, and chemicals in the brain that may have an effect on the development of, and recovery from, eating disorders.
- Families. Parental attitudes about appearance and diet affect children's attitudes. Also, if your mother or sister has bulimia, you are more likely to have it, too.
(Click Causes of Eating Disorders for more information.)