What causes eating disorders?

It certainly wasn’t about weight. It was about restriction, guilt, and fear. And not having the support

 I needed to find my way back to my dreams.”

There is no simple explanation. Some of the influencing factors may be social pressure to be thin, dieting, family patterns, personal stresses and difficulties, unmet emotional needs, values and beliefs. These will differ for different people.

Family Patterns:

  • Family history of depression
  • Family emphasis on appearance
  • Parental deprivation
  • Overprotection/Rigidity
  • Boundary Issues
  • Poor attachment
  • Stress
  • Family conflict or trauma
  • Emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • Conflict avoidance
  • Family history of alcohol and/or drug abuse
  • Family history of eating disorders or preoccupation with food and weight

Personal Factors:

  • Low self esteem
  • Low mood or depression
  • Very sensitive to other’s opinions
  • Very self-conscious
  • Perfectionist
  • Self-critical
  • Anxious
  • Fears about sexuality
  • Experience of sexual or physical abuse
  • Unhealthy relationship with food – using it to meet needs other than hunger
  • Feeling unprepared for adulthood
  • Poor problem-solving skills
  • Relationship problems
  • Trauma eg. Death of family member of friend
  • Sense of ineffectiveness
  • Mistrust of body
  • Impulsivity
  • Fear of growing up
  • Distorted body image

Social Factors:

  • Social emphasis on ultra-thinness in media
  • Social intolerance of fatness
  • Social pressure to be thin
  • Social pressures to achieve
  • Focus on appearance among friends
  • Need to “fit in” or belong to a social group
  • Belief that diets work
  • Belief that you have to be thin to be healthy
  • Belief that life will be better when thin
  • View of food as “good” and “bad”
  • Glamorisation of eating disorders
  • For women: lack of power in society
  • For women: Struggle of motherhood and career


Not allowing yourself to eat certain foods or enough food creates physiological and emotional responses which often lead to the feeling of being out of control and either bingeing or being so scared to start eating because you think you won’t be able to stop.

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