Eating Disorders: Causes and Risk Factors
Many doctors believe that a combination of genetic, physical, social, and psychological factors may contribute to the development of an eating ...
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What Causes Eating Disorders?
The exact cause of eating disorders is
unknown. However, many doctors believe that a combination of genetic, physical,
social, and psychological factors may contribute to the development of an
Certain genes may increase a person’s susceptibility to developing
an eating disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, people with first-degree relatives
who have an eating disorder are more likely to have one, too.
Research suggests that serotonin may influence eating behaviors.
Serotonin is a naturally-occurring brain chemical that helps regulate mood,
learning, and sleep, among other things.
People with an eating disorder may have an underlying
psychological or mental health problem that may contribute to the disorder.
These problems may include:
- low self-esteem
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
- troubled relationships
Success and worth are often equated with physical beauty and a
slim physique. This is especially true in Western culture. The desire to
succeed or feel accepted may fuel behaviors associated with eating disorders.
What Risk Factors are Associated with Eating Disorders?
Certain genetic, social, and environmental
factors may increase a person’s risk for developing an eating disorder. Some of
these risk factors include the following:
- Gender – Women are more likely than men to have an eating disorder.
- Age – Eating disorders are most common during the teens and early
twenties. However, they can occur at any age.
- Family history – People with first-degree relatives who have an eating disorder
are more likely to have an eating disorder themselves.
- Dieting – Weight loss is often met with positive reinforcement. This need
for affirmation may drive people to diet more severely, which can lead to an
- Emotional disorders – People with depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive
disorder are more likely to experience an eating disorder.
- Life transitions – Certain life changes and events can cause emotional distress
and anxiety, which can make a person more susceptible to eating disorders. This
is especially true if the person has struggled with an eating disorder in the
past. These times of transition may include moving, changing jobs, the end of a
relationship, or the death of a loved one. Abuse, sexual assault, and incest
can also trigger an eating disorder.
- Extracurricular activities – People who are a part of sports teams and artistic groups are
at an increased risk. The same is true for any community that is driven by
appearance as a symbol of social status. These groups include athletes, actors,
dancers, models, and television personalities. Coaches, parents, and
professionals in those areas may inadvertently contribute to eating disorders
by encouraging weight loss.
Are Men Affected by Eating Disorders?
Women are more commonly affected by eating
disorders, but men are not immune. In fact, according to a 2007 Harvard
University study, one-quarter of Americans with
anorexia or bulimia are male. The same study found that 40 percent of Americans
with a binge-eating disorder are male.
Some men suffer from a condition called
muscle dysmorphia, which describes an extreme desire to become more muscular.
While most women with eating disorders wish to lose weight and be very thin,
men with this disorder see themselves as too small and want to gain weight or
increase muscle mass. Men with this type of disorder may engage in dangerous
behaviors like steroid use, and may also use other types of drugs to increase
muscle mass more quickly.
However, men are less likely to be diagnosed with
an eating disorder, even when they exhibit very similar or the same symptoms as
The exact reason why men are less likely to
be diagnosed with eating disorders is unknown. However, research published by
the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that many young men with eating disorders don’t seek
treatment because they are ashamed of having a stereotypically female disorder.
The same study suggests that binge-eating disorders may go unnoticed in young
men, perhaps because young men who overeat attract less attention than young
women who exhibit the same behaviors.
Kimberly Holland and Tim Jewell
Medically Reviewed by:
Nov 26, 2014
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.