This is a topic that comes up often, as folks may feel confused about where the eating disorder came from, who caused it, and what they did wrong. The big question is, “But why?”. This is a very difficult question to answer because there is not one cause of eating disorders. This blog we will go into the different factors that contribute to an eating disorder and how they impact an individual.
Prevalence of Eating Disorders
Here are a few facts about the prevalence of eating disorders:
25% of those with disordered eating develop an eating disorder.
Adolescents are more susceptible to developing an eating disorder, as well as when someone is going through a life transition.
Binge Eating Disorder is the most common eating disorder and is more common than breast cancer.
1 out of 4 student athletes struggle with an eating disorder with increased rates among endurance sports such as cross country or swimming.
If you or your loved ones fit into any of those categories above, there is higher risk for an eating disorder.
The Perfect Storm
I call the ultimate cause of eating disorders to be “the perfect storm”. An eating disorder does not form because of just one factor, one trauma, or one family member. What I mean by this is that a bunch of different factors come together, leading to an eating disorder. This is called the biopsychosocial model in therapy terms. The biopsychosocial system consists of one’s biology, psychology, and socio-environmental factors. So let’s break this down further.
Biology and Psychology
Our biology is the physiological and genetic factors that contribute to our physical health, immune and stress response, or metabolic disorders. This is something that we do not have control over and is just how our body was created. They encompass our genetic makeup, biochemical processes, and the functioning of our organs and systems in the body.
This consists of factors that involve thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and mental processes on health. Some examples are temperament, social skills, self-esteem, mental health conditions, personality traits, and perceptions. Psychological factors influence the way individuals perceive and respond to stressors and life events.
Common Characteristics in Eating Disorders
Although there is no specific DNA marker for eating disorders, there are certain factors that are genetic that come into play. Some of the characteristics or personality traits that are genetically passed down, contribute to the cause of eating disorders. These include achievement-oriented, sensitive to consequences, high attention to detail, and altered interoceptive awareness.
All of these characteristics can be a very positive attribute and when taken too far, contribute to mental health struggles. Achievement-oriented looks like having high expectations for yourself and striving to be the best. Sensitive to Consequences can look like a fear of upsetting those around us, otherwise known as “people pleasers”. High attention to detail leads to someone being hyper-aware of their flaws and altered interoceptive awareness (or high pain tolerance) looks like being able to push yourself mentally and physically past a point of discomfort, tiredness, or fatigue.
When we are talking about the environment around us, we are talking about sociocultural factors. This includes things like increased stress, social media, pressures associated with sports participation and performance, and eating patterns and comments of others around us. Yes, we are talking about diet culture here. To learn more about diet culture, check out our blog post here, but for now I will give you a brief summary. Diet culture is a system that values weight, shape, and size over well-being. It is a culture where dieting is emphasized due to social pressures of thinness. It is everywhere from the grocery store, to the tv, to schools. We are surrounded by these pressures and it is near impossible to ignore.
So the cause of eating disorders is..
All of the above. There is no one cause or factor. The combination of biology, psychology, and our environment all correlate to an eating disorder. If you fit into multiple categories here, that is okay. That does not mean you have an eating disorder, it just means you are more susceptible. If you do feel like you could benefit from support, please reach out to use here for a free 15 minute consultation!