• Programs for Eating Disorders

    Common Causes of Eating Disorders

    Most researchers and clinicians who work in the Eating Disorders field believe that conditions such as Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder develop as the result of many influences. The conditions themselves are very complex, affecting just about all aspects of the person’s life. Just as an eating disorder can cause multiple impairments, e.g. emotional, psychological, interpersonal, social, spiritual, and physical, so are the contributing factors. While much remains to be learned, there is broad consensus that the factors listed below are significant contributors to the development of an eating disorder.

    Factors that contribute to the development of an Eating Disorder include:


    • Feeling that one’s life is out of control (loss of control over body changes, transitions, maturity, and conflicts about independence)Feeling self-conscious
    • Early or late development compared to peers
    • Persistent low opinions of one’s own worth
    • Significant negative mood such as depression, anger, anxiety, loneliness
    • Need to control and achieve success with one aspect of life that may be expressed through weight control behaviors.
    • Aggressive and persistent dieting.
    • Cognitive Rigidity, tendency toward obsessive thinking, compulsion to follow rules or engage in ritualized behaviors
    • Perfectionism and fears of failure
    • Competitive and driven
    • Inability to cope with intense emotional states such as anxiety and anger contribute to development of dysfunctional eating, self-harm, substance misuse and other maladaptive ways of modulating moods
    • Interpersonal
    • Tumultuous events of adolescence and intensifying stressors

    Peer pressure

    • Discomfort expressing personal feelings iStock_721222XSmall_commoncausesofeatingdisorders
    • Being teased or bullied because of size or weight
    • Family or personal relationships characterized by conflict, or criticism
    • History of sexual, emotional, or physical abuse


    • Cultural pressures that place an exaggerated emphasis on appearance, especially to be thin
    • Unrealistic, biologically unattainable standards of beauty
    • Social norms that base social acceptance and attractiveness only on conforming to narrow physical standards
    • May have heard comment about weight, health class, media etc.


    It is believed that there is a biological vulnerability to developing an eating disorder but it remains unclear exactly what the vulnerability is. A variety of neurotransmitters, hormones, and chemicals that regulate appetite, digestion and mood are currently being investigated.

    The effects of semi-starvation cause physiological changes that perpetuate the disorder. Understanding the causes of eating disorders is further complicated by the fact that behaviors associated with weight loss within eating disorders can create additional symptoms.  For example, chronic severe dietary restriction can worsen depression and anxiety, as well as trigger binge eating.  Also, the original causes of the eating disorder are unlikely to be the factors that keep it going.  Often dieting is initiated in the hopes of producing changes that will make the person feel better about herself or as a way of coping with negative emotions. Ultimately, the behaviors that start out as a way of demonstrating self-control end up out of control.

    If you suspect that you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please contact us at 314-289-9411.

    HEALTH ALERT: Important Coronavirus Update Learn More
    + +