La Luna Center
What Causes an Eating Disorder

Boulder Eating Disorder Treatment

Eating disorders are complex conditions that arise from a combination of long-standing behavioral, biological, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and social factors. Scientists and researchers are still learning about the underlying causes of these emotionally and physically damaging conditions. We do know, however, about some of the general issues that can contribute to the development of eating disorders.

Psychological Factors that can contribute to Eating Disorders:

• Low self-esteem
• Vulnerable personality
• Emotional disregulation
• Feelings of inadequacy or lack of control in life
• Depression, anxiety, anger, or loneliness
• Traumatic event (intrapersonal)
• Major life change (intrapersonal)

Interpersonal Factors that can contribute to Eating Disorders:

• Family functioning style
• Troubled family and personal relationships
• Difficulty expressing emotions and feelings
• History of being teased or ridiculed based on size or weight
• History of physical or sexual abuse
• Traumatic event (interpersonal)
• Major life change (interpersonal)

Social Factors that can contribute to Eating Disorders:

• Cultural pressures that glorify “thinness” and place value on obtaining the “perfect body”
• Narrow definitions of beauty that include only women and men of specific body weights and shapes
• Diet culture
• Cultural norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance and not inner qualities and strengths
• Social and romantic concerns

Biological Factors that can contribute to Eating Disorders:

• Chemical imbalance: Scientists are still researching possible biochemical or biological causes of eating disorders. In some individuals with eating disorders, certain chemicals in the brain that control hunger, appetite, and digestion have been found to be unbalanced. The exact meaning and implications of these imbalances remains under investigation.
• Genetic predisposition: Eating disorders often run in families. Current research is indicates that there are significant genetic contributions to eating disorders.

Eating disorders are complex conditions that can arise from a variety of potential causes. Once started, however, they can create a self-perpetuating cycle of physical and emotional destruction. Professional help is recommended in the treatment of eating disorders.

© 2004 National Eating Disorders Association. -


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