The causes of eating disorders are complex and varied. They are mostly related to poor self-image, a desire for thinness, genetic causes, and emotional health. However, there are often complex explanation for how people develop eating disorders, such as:

  • Perfectionism — the desire to achieve the perfect body can lead many into a poor relationship with food. They may choose to restrict their food intake or exercise compulsively in order to burn off extra fat. Perfectionism may spread into other areas of someone’s life, including their eating and exercise pattern. 
  • Genetics and biology. People who have a parent or relative with an eating disorder are more likely to develop one. Similarly, biological factors, such as changes in brain chemistry may also increase someone’s risk to develop this type of mental condition. 
  • Poor emotional regulation: Some people develop eating disorders because they cannot cope with the difficult emotions they feel. For example, binge-eating disorder involves eating a lot of food in a short amount of time. This happens because people cannot manage the emotions that make them seek comfort from food. As a result of a low ability to manage one’s emotions, people develop eating disorders as a coping mechanism. 
  • Psychological factors: these include mental health conditions like depression or anxiety, which make people more vulnerable to eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating disorder. In many cases, these conditions happen simultaneously. 
  • Social media and beauty standards. You might be wondering how does social media cause eating disorders? At the end of the day, no one tells us to starve ourselves or hate our bodies, right? In reality, these beauty standards put a lot of pressure on how we’re supposed to look. Young people are particularly vulnerable to this. They adopt unhealthy eating patterns (such as eating way less than they need) in order to look like someone they admire on social media. This is also the answer to how is anorexia caused. Many young girls are pressured to look like the skinny models they see online, which leads them to develop severe eating disorders. 

If you’re not sure how to know what eating disorder you have, get in touch with a mental health professional to discuss your symptoms. 

Asked by: Loren G.

CBT Psychologist / Cognitive Neuroscientist

Teodora is a cognitive neuroscientist with a background in Psychology and Integrative Psychotherapy. She has experience working in clinical trials with Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients and adults with various mental health diagnoses. She has an integrative approach towards mental health and aims to help people recognize the importance of physical, emotional, and spiritual health to their overall mental wellness.