Joshua Cole.

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You are here: Home Eating Disorders Causes


It is important to remember that there is not one single simple thing that causes a person to develop an Eating Disorder. It may develop due to a combination of emotional, physical and social triggers. Common personality traits amongst suffers of eating disorders include low self-esteem, perfectionism, restraint, a need to please others and mood disorders, especially depression. These characteristics may predispose an individual to develop an eating disorder in the presence of specific triggers or precipitating events. The precise reasons for developing it are thought to be different for each person.

Physiological factors

Genetic factors

Studies have suggested that genetic factors contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Research done in 2003 shows a link to the development of bulimia nervosa with an area on the 10p chromosome. Twin studies also strongly support the importance of this genetic factor in both Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. While both genetics and unique environments contributed to the development of these disorders, the studies indicate a slightly stronger effect from genetic predisposition than from environmental circumstances. Evidence suggests that genes influencing both eating regulation, and personality and emotion, may be important contributing factors.

Neurobiological factors

The neurotransmitter serotonin is thought to play a significant role in eating disorders. It has been particularly linked to anorexia, owing to the role of this neurotransmitter in regulating anxiety and the influence of dieting behaviour on the serotonin system. Low levels of serotonin also contribute to the continuation of the bulimic cycle; whether it is contributing to or arising from the nutritional deficiency and vomiting is still undetermined.

Psychological factors

Although there has been quite a lot of research into psychological factors, there are relatively few theories that attempt to explain the condition as a whole. Fairburn and colleagues have created a 'transdiagnostic' model in which they aim to explain how eating disorders are maintained. Their model is developed with psychological therapies, particularly cognitive behaviour therapy, in mind, and so suggests areas where clinicians could provide psychological treatment.

Their model is based on the idea that all major eating disorders (with the exception of obesity) share some core types of psychopathology that help maintain the eating disorder behaviour. This includes clinical perfectionism, chronic low self-esteem, mood intolerance (inability to cope appropriately with certain emotional states) and interpersonal difficulties.

There has been a significant amount of work into psychological factors that suggests how biases in thinking and perception help maintain or contribute to the risk of developing anorexia. Anorexic eating behaviour is thought to originate from feelings of fatness and unattractiveness and is maintained by various cognitive biases (for example the tendency to over-estimate the size of their own bodies) that alter how the affected individual evaluates and thinks about their body, food and eating.

Social and environmental factors

Sociocultural studies have highlighted the role of cultural factors, such as the promotion of thinness as the ideal female form in Western industrialised nations, particularly through the media. Both Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa are usually associated with Western cultures, to the point that the disorder is almost non-existent in eastern cultures. Exposure to Western media is thought to have led to an increase in cases in non-Western counties.

There is a high rate of child sexual abuse experiences in those who have been diagnosed with anorexia. Although prior sexual abuse is not thought to be a specific risk factor for anorexia those who have experienced such abuse are more likely to have more serious and chronic symptoms. Significant rates of sexual assault and violence also indicate a possible correlation between victimisation and the development of bulimia.

Binge Eating

The causes of Binge Eating Disorder are even less clear than those of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. As such only theories can be suggested regarding possible risk factors for the disorder. Approximately half of all people with binge eating disorder have been depressed in the past. Whether depression causes binge eating disorder or whether binge eating disorder causes depression is not known. Sufferers identify that feelings of anger, sadness, boredom, or worry can cause them to binge eat. Impulsive behaviour (acting quickly without thinking) and certain other emotional problems can be more common in people with binge eating disorder. It is also unclear if dieting and binge eating are related.

Some studies show that about half of all people with binge eating disorder had binge episodes before they started to diet. Researchers also are looking into how brain chemicals and metabolism affect binge eating disorder.







You are here: Home Eating Disorders Causes