Cause of Eating Problems and Disorders

All eating disorders are outward signs that something is wrong inside. The problem relates to a crisis about self-identity and self-worth. Taking control of the body and food intake can seem the only way of achieving a position of independence and control in general.

An eating disorder is merely a symptom of an underlying problem. Eating disorders can have many causes, but food is NOT one of them. A person's eating disorder is triggered by one or a number of (often minor) events.

Cause > Trigger > Symptom

Anyone can develop an eating disorder regardless of age, race, gender or background. However, young women are most vulnerable.

Eating disorders are linked to deep-rooted psychological conditions.

Initial Causes

The causes or underlying issues are different for every eating disordered person. It is often a traumatic event that has happened in their life, possibly years before the eating disorder manifested. Examples of possible causes:

  • Abuse (sexual, physical, or emotional)
  • Traumatic family event (divorce, death, serious illness)
  • Another long-term illness or disability (often diabetes, manic depression or deafness)
  • Peer pressure
  • Recent research suggests a genetic predisposition, and as well as biological reasons, a key person (a parent for example) may adversely influence other family members through his or her attitudes to food.
  • These are only initial causes, at this point the person does not and may not suffer from an eating disorder in the future. The person has experienced a traumatic event in their life, but this does not automatically mean they will develop an eating disorder.

    Family factors

    In situations where there are high academic expectations or social pressures, a person may focus on food and eating as a way of coping with these stresses.

    If someone is raised in a dysfunctional family, she may have feelings of abandonment and loneliness, leading to an eating disorder.

    There also appears to be a link between overprotective parenting and anorexia. Many anorexics come from close-knit families that allow their members little room for individuality. Rebellion against this restrictive environment often takes the form of refusing to eat.

    Children also receive their first messages about their bodies from their families. If parent place too much emphasis on physical appearance, it can lead to low self-esteem in those children, causing problems later on.

    Trigger points

  • Dieting is the most common trigger. This is often due to the individual being told that they should lose some weight. They begin to diet and enjoy the positive feedback stemming from the weight loss and the sense of control, but they lose perspective on what a healthy or attractive body image really is, and become obsessed with continuing weight loss. Nobody starts out intending to become eating disordered: it is something that happens gradually over time.
  • Social factors: in industrialized societies (e.g. Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, the US, the UK) the media often implies that thin is better, and that it brings success, power, approval, popularity and love. From comments from sufferers about their weight and body shape, a link between eating disorders and social pressures is clear.
  • Change in life-stage, especially puberty (when people become more aware of their bodies). Teenage anorectics are often described as fearful of growing up and trying to avoid their emerging sexuality. By fasting, these girls drastically reduce the amount of female hormones being produced, which not only keeps their breasts and hips from developing, but also prevents menstruation
  • Pressure to succeed e.g. academic
  • Relationship problems or pressure from peers to conform.

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