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