Eating Disorders Home > Cause of Eating Disorder

The true cause of an eating disorder is unknown. However, several factors have been identified as being likely to lead to an eating disorder. For example, experiencing traumatic events, having poor self-image, and living in a society that promotes extreme thinness as the standard of beauty are all risk factors for the development of an eating disorder.

Cause of Eating Disorders: An Overview

There is no known eating disorders cause. However, several things, known as risk factors, may increase the risk of developing an eating disorder. These risk factors include:
  • 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, or being teased, to 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.

Summary of the Risk Factors for Eating Disorders

A number of people with eating disorders have no risk factors, and plenty of people with some or all of these risk factors do not develop an eating disorder. While these factors increase the likelihood of developing an eating disorder, they are not actual causes of an eating disorder. Researchers continue to look for specific causes of these conditions.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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