Eating Disorders Home > Causes of Eating Disorders

Possible causes of eating disorders include personality factors, genetics, environmental factors, body image, and biochemistry. Because doctors and scientists are not sure of the exact causes, researchers continue to try to understand the connection between these risk factors and eating disorders.

Do Scientists Know What Causes Eating Disorders?

There is no single known cause of eating disorders. However, several things may increase a person's risk of developing an eating disorder. These risk factors include:
 
  • Personality factors
  • Genetic and environmental factors
  • Body image
  • Biochemistry.
     
Personality Factors
Most people with eating disorders share certain personality traits, such as:
 
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • A fear of becoming fat.
 
In anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder, eating behaviors seem to develop as a way of handling stress.
 
Genetic and Environmental Factors
Eating disorders appear to run in families, with female relatives most often affected. However, there is growing evidence that a girl's immediate social environment, including her family and friends, can emphasize the importance of thinness and weight control. For example, regular discussion of weight and dieting may normalize societal pressure to be thin. Weight-related teasing by peers and family is often related to low self-esteem and eating disturbances in young girls.
 
Studies have shown that girls who live in families that tend to be strict and that place strong emphasis on physical attractiveness and weight control are at an increased risk for inappropriate eating behaviors.
 
In addition, people pursuing professions or activities that emphasize thinness -- like modeling, dancing, gymnastics, wrestling, and long-distance running -- can be more susceptible to the problem.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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