Factors That Contribute to the Development of Eating Disorders

Factors That Contribute to the Development of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders affect millions of Americans and they are often complex conditions that can be caused by a variety of factors. While every person who suffers from disordered eating is different and has unique contributing causes, there are some factors that come up time and time again. These common risks are not always indicative that an eating disorder will develop, but they may be, so it is important to take a look at them.

Common Risk Factors that Contribute to Eating Disorders

Some factors pertain to eating disorders in general, while others are specific to particular types of eating disorders.

Risk factors that are common to all eating disorders include:

Constant dieting

Lack of family or social support

Dissatisfied body image

Negative affect

Thin-ideal internalization

Some additional risk factors that can be associated with any eating disorder, but are less common include: being female, low self-esteem, parental separation, social challenges or issues, isolating behavior, maladaptive coping skills, history of psychiatric issues, higher body mass index (BMI) in childhood, and social pressure to be thin.

Risk factors associated with anorexia nervosa include:


Thin-ideal internalization

Additional risk factors that are associated with anorexia nervosa, but less commonly are: cephalohematoma as an infant, premature birth, low birth weight, being one of a multiple birth, childhood eating issues, and perfectionism.

Risk factors associated with bulimia nervosa include:

Negative affect

Constant dieting or fasting

Social pressure to be thin

Dissatisfaction with body

Thin-ideal internalization

Additional, but less common, risk factors for bulimia nervosa include: Alcohol use, malnutrition during childhood, early adolescence, feeling of inadequacy, and having psychiatric issues.

Risk factors for binge eating disorder can include many of the above, but the most common is the social pressure to be thin.

Influences That May Play a Part in Eating Disorders

Studies show that there are biological, psychological, social, and interpersonal factors that often play a part in the development of eating disorders. While not necessarily predictive, they may play a part in someone developing an eating disorder.

Biological  Researchers have been, and continue to, study possible biochemical and biological causes of eating disorders. Why some people develop disordered eating and some don’t, is often a mystery. While there is evidence that in some individuals with eating disorders there is an imbalance in certain chemicals that control appetite, hunger, and digestion, it isn’t consistent among everyone with an eating disorder.

Research does indicate that there is a significant genetic contribution to disordered eating, as it often runs in families.

Psychological  Psychological influences that may contribute to disordered eating tend to correlate with feelings of inadequacy or lack of control of one’s own life, low self-esteem and self-worth, and oftentimes, depression, anxiety, anger, and isolation.

Social  People who are susceptible to the cultural pressures to be thin or muscular, and who place value on having the perfect body are often more at risk of developing disordered eating behaviors. Additionally, those who have a narrow definition of beauty, or who have prejudices that are size or weight-related, or who place value on the physical appearance rather than inner strengths and qualities may also be more apt to develop eating disorders.

Interpersonal  People who have troubled relationships, a history of being bullied or teased about their weight or appearance, a history of sexual or physical abuse, or who have difficulty expressing their emotions are at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder.

Help for Eating Disorders is Available

Whatever the contributing factors are for individuals who develop eating disorders, it’s important to remember that there is help available and recovery is possible. Summit Behavioral Health’s Eating Disorder treatment program can help you find hope and healing from your eating disorder.

Summit Eating Disorder Center

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