The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. As with other mental illnesses, there may be many causes, such as:
- Genetics. Certain people may have genes that increase their risk of developing eating disorders. People with first-degree relatives siblings or parents with an eating disorder may be more likely to develop an eating disorder, too.
- Psychological and emotional health. People with eating disorders may have psychological and emotional problems that contribute to the disorder. They may have low self-esteem, perfectionism, impulsive behavior and troubled relationships.
- Society. Success and worth are often equated with being thin in popular culture. Peer pressure and what people see in the media may fuel this desire to be thin.
Certain situations and events might increase the risk of developing an eating disorder. These risk factors may include:
- Being female. Teenage girls and young women are more likely than teenage boys and young men to have anorexia or bulimia, but males can have eating disorders, too.
- Age. Although eating disorders can occur across a broad age range including childhood, the teenage years and older adulthood they are much more common during the teens and early 20s.
- Family history. Eating disorders are significantly more likely to occur in people who have parents or siblings who’ve had an eating disorder.
- Mental health disorders. People with depression, anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder are more likely to have an eating disorder.
- Dieting. People who lose weight are often reinforced by positive comments from others and by their changing appearance. This may cause some people to take dieting too far, leading to an eating disorder.
- Stress. Whether it’s heading off to college, moving, landing a new job, or a family or relationship issue, change can bring stress, which may increase your risk of an eating disorder.
- Sports, work and artistic activities. Athletes, actors, dancers and models may be at higher risk of eating disorders. Coaches and parents may unwittingly contribute to eating disorders by encouraging young athletes to lose weight.
Eating disorders cause a wide variety of complications, some of them life-threatening. The more severe or long lasting the eating disorder, the more likely you are to experience serious complications, such as:
- Significant medical problems
- Depression and anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
- Problems with growth and development
- Social and relationship problems
- Substance use disorders
- Work and school issues