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What Causes an Eating Disorder?

Risk Factors

A person can develop an eating disorder for any number of reasons, and there is usually an accumulation of ‘risk factors’ which are identified as the person progresses through treatment.

It is not always the case that something significantly traumatic has happened in a person’s life that has caused the eating disorder, although sometimes this can be the case. More often than not, there are many factors that for some reason interact in a particular way for that particular person, triggering them to engage in disordered eating behaviours, which in turn triggers their thinking to become distorted and results in the person becoming increasingly ‘imprisoned’ by the eating disorder.

When we think of risk factors we can think of these in two groups, one group being those factors that are ‘internal’ to the person, so factors that arise out of the personality type and genetic make up of the person. The second group, being factors that are external to the person, which the person experiences and which interact with the person is a particular way due to the make up of that person. Essentially, we are looking at the interaction of nature and nurture, rather than an eating disorder being caused by any one particular factor.

  • Genetics
  • Tendency towards being anxious / perfectionism
  • Difficulty managing emotions
  • Low self-esteem
  • Body dissatisfaction
  • Extreme or heightened sensitivity to other’s [perceived] emotions / needs
  • Onset of puberty, menopause, andropause
  • Diabetes
  • Socio-cultural factors – fashion, media, social media
  • Severe/stressful life events such as trauma, bullying
  • Family difficulties / problems in relationships
  • Bereavement or loss
  • Abuse
  • Dieting
  • Family history
  • Food insecurity