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Why Do People Become Anorexic?: Understanding Eating Disorders

Anorexia, bulimia, and other types of eating disorders affect millions of Americans. However, many sufferers usually remain undiagnosed because they don’t know it’s a problem or believe they’re “sick” enough – unfortunately, this can lead to fatal consequences.

But what exactly causes someone to develop such extreme dieting behavior and risk their health? Experts suggest that it’s a combination of risk factors ranging from biological to environmental, with some people being more susceptible than others.

Read on to discover the possible causes of anorexia.

Eating Disorders Explained

The first step to understanding anorexia nervosa and eating disorders is learning what these terms mean. So, what exactly is an eating disorder, and at what point are a person’s food-related habits considered disordered?

Many people have odd eating habits, but the overwhelming preoccupation with one’s body or intense fear of gaining weight is usually what defines an eating disorder. The development of anorexia nervosa can lead to extreme food restriction and low calorie intake, which can have fatal consequences if left untreated.

To put it plainly, the line between irregular food-related habits and an eating disorder is how much it impacts your daily life. If the preoccupation with body weight, food, and eating has gotten in the way of someone’s daily activities or functioning, then it may be time to consider seeking professional treatment.

Signs Of Anorexia

A person with anorexia usually exhibits a few key behaviors or symptoms, and it’s essential to watch out for them if you suspect that someone you love is suffering. Here’s what you should be aware of:

  • Sudden weight loss
  • Decreased food intake
  • Skipping meals
  • Talking about being “fat” very often
  • Excessive exercise
  • Being overly self-critical
  • Obsessive calorie counting

It’s important to note that not all individuals suffering from an eating disorder will be underweight – they might even have a normal or even above-average weight. The behaviors they exhibit matter infinitely more than their weight or appearance.

What Causes Anorexia Nervosa?

We know that the symptoms of anorexia nervosa can include extremely low body weight, restricting food intake, and obsessive calorie counting – but what causes a person to develop these behaviors in the first place?

The answer is that it’s a combination of several factors, from internal, biological considerations to a person’s relationship with their friends, family, and the larger community.

No one thing causes anorexia nervosa, and the trigger can be different for everyone. Here are some ways an individual may be predisposed to developing an eating disorder and other related mental health conditions.

Internal Factors

Sometimes, individuals develop eating disorders because of a genetic proclivity. It can run in a person’s family or be rooted in their individual brain chemistry. It’s also possible they simply have the right mix of traits/attitudes that increase their overall anxiety about their bodies.

Genetics

Up until fairly recently, anorexia nervosa was considered a psychosocial problem, meaning that scientists and academics believed it was caused primarily by external factors. However, studies have determined a genetic cause.

Specifically, individuals with a family member or close relative who suffers from eating disorders are more likely to develop one themselves. Numerous studies have also shown that shared eating disorders are more common between identical twins than fraternal twins or non-twin siblings.

Hormones

Our hormones shape how we experience our lives and the rest of the world, so it’s no surprise that they can also be a contributing factor in developing an eating disorder. After all, the hormones our body produces can determine everything from our appetite, growth, mood, stress, and even ability to fall asleep.

Research suggests that people with eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa may be experiencing a hormonal imbalance of some kind. The likely culprits are cortisol and serotonin, the hormones that influence stress and mood respectively.

Personality Traits

People with anorexia tend to follow certain behavioral patterns or demonstrate certain personality traits that are commonly linked to eating disorders. Here are some of the characteristics associated with extreme dieting in adults and children:

  • Perfectionism
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low self-worth
  • Lacking self-confidence
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Trouble dealing with emotions
  • Impulsivity
  • Feelings of anxiety

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External Factors

Generally speaking, people with anorexia have usually undergone some sort of traumatic event they’re unable to cope with, leading to the development of food or weight-related problems. It can be said that eating disorders are a stress response to external stimuli such as treatment by others and societal expectations.

Culture

Many people have issues with their bodies and the way they look, but these problems can be exacerbated by societal pressures to be “thin and beautiful”.

Popular media tends to vilify being fat, whether passively through offhand comments or actively through fat-shaming. Women, teens, and trans people are particularly susceptible to this kind of pressure, but that doesn’t mean men don’t feel it too.

Here are a few of the ways societal pressure can contribute to decreased food intake and anorexia:

  • Over-emphasis on thinness
  • Associating a thin figure with attractiveness and success
  • Framing being large as something inherently bad
  • Pressure to “slim down” even when unnecessary

Environment

An individual is shaped by their experiences: from their home life to school to their interactions with their peers. Here are a few ways that childhood experiences and interpersonal exchanges can encourage an eating disorder:

  • Peer pressure
  • Participating in an activity that values a specific body shape: ballet, gymnastics, running, or beauty pageants
  • History of sexual or physical abuse
  • Turbulent home life
  • Being bullied at school for their appearance
  • Overall difficult time as a child

How Can I Help People With Anorexia?

If you or someone you care about is showing signs of anorexia or another type of eating disorder, it’s important that you seek treatment immediately. However, the reality is that the person in question may not always be ready, and it’s important to give them enough time and ensure that they want to change.

When you or your loved one is ready, get in touch today so we can help you plan a treatment strategy that has complete recovery in mind.