What causes a person to develop an eating disorder?


We do not yet know, for sure, what causes eating disorders. Here are some things we do know:

  • Eating disorders are not a "disease of choice" - although it may feel that way to the patient
  • Eating disorders are inherited illness: 50-80% of the risk is genetic*
  • The head of the US NIMH refers to anorexia nervosa as a brain disorder.
  • Studies show that people undergoing malnutrition display similar behaviors and thoughts to eating disorder patients
  • Patients often do not feel ill, or have awareness of how sick they are
  • Brain chemistry, function, and structure are altered in eating disorder patients
  • Paradoxically, eating disorder patients experience a relief from anxiety when restricting, bingeing, and purging
  • Certain inborn personality traits seem to pre-dispose patients to eating disorders (perfectionism, difficulty 'set-shifting'
  • Eating disorders often occur in people with other mental conditions such as anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive symptoms (OCD)
  • Research is ongoing into whether anorexia could in some cases be a form of undiagnosed autism
  • Full nutrition repairs brain functioning, reducing mental symptoms that drive the disordered thinking and behaviors.
  • Parents do not cause eating disorders.
* Data on heritability of anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa.

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This page was last updated: 4/2/2012 8:52:17 AM