Causes of Eating Disorders

It’s a myth that people engage in disordered eating behaviors in order  to become thinner or more attractive.  It’s also a myth that  eating disorders are caused by vanity, selfishness, or stubbornness.  These beliefs  leave friends and family members feeling frustrated or angry when their loved one won’t "just eat more" or "simply stop purging or over-exercising."

The origin of eating and exercise disorders is often found in a complex interaction of biological, psychological, social, and cultural factors.  Biological predispositions and co-morbid illnesses such as depression and anxiety, family or relationship discord, life transitions, difficulty expressing feelings, perfectionism, fear of losing control, lack of autonomy, and sexual abuse or assault are some common contributing factors.

Social pressures and media portrayals of "the ideal body" may also add to the likelihood of developing disordered eating. In an effort to match these impossible standards of beauty and success, men and women may experiment with rigid or unhealthy food and exercise plans. Studies suggest  approximately one-third of individuals who experiment with these extreme weight-loss methods go on to develop  eating disorders.

With our culture so  focused on food, exercise, and body size and shape, it’s  easy to be distracted from the emotional issues that underlie disordered eating and exercise. Remember: eating disorders are NOT about food or weight. They ARE symbols of the individuals’ difficulty coping with feelings or other life problems.  Unknowingly, men and women often engage in  binge eating, dieting, excessive exercise, or supplement use in order to relieve emotional stress or distract themselves from negative feelings.  These behaviors may also be the ways the individual indirectly expresses his/her feelings of frustration, disappointment, anger or fear.  Because these behaviors serve the purpose of helping the individual cope, s/he  can’t "just stop". Instead,  more adaptive ways of coping must be learned first.