Like all Mental Health Disorders, Eating Disorders stem from countless potential causes. Even though two people might have the same type of Eating Disorder and face many of the same symptoms, their experiences will still be extremely unique.
There are many life factors that can increase your risk of developing an Eating Disorder. These factors influence how your Eating Disorder affects your everyday life. Understanding these common risk factors helps you navigate your mental health, understand symptoms, and work with a Licensed Clinical Psychologist to take precautions against the development or worsening of an Eating Disorder. Learn more about the various factors that can increase the risk of an Eating Disorder with this overview.
Eating Disorders can occur in anyone regardless of age. However, adolescents and young adults are statistically more likely to develop some kind of Eating Disorder than other age groups.
There are several potential reasons for this. Younger people are more susceptible to peer pressure and toxic societal expectations that can create a negative body image. High school and college students are also more likely to participate in some of the extracurricular activities that correlate with Eating Disorders, such as sports or drama clubs.
Genetics and Family History
As with many Mental Health Disorders, genetics can play a role in the development of an Eating Disorder. If you have a family history of Eating Disorders, you’re more likely to develop one yourself. This likelihood increases if you have a first-degree relative—such as a parent or sibling—who has an Eating Disorder or who has developed an Eating Disorder in the past.
Genetic risk factors aren’t limited specifically to Eating Disorders. A family history of other Mental Health Disorders, such as anxiety or depression, can also increase your likelihood of developing an Eating Disorder.
History of Dieting
A healthy diet helps you lose weight and improve nutrition in a way that is safe and natural. Unfortunately, many diets aren’t as healthy or balanced as they should be. Excessive dieting leads to an obsession with weight, overly strict calorie counting, overexercising, purging, and other dangerous habits. As a result, unhealthy diets often act as a gateway to binge eating, purging, self-starvation, and other behaviors associated with Eating Disorders.
Participation in diet culture can also exacerbate the issue. Dieting with other people can start as a way to hold each other accountable but devolve into pressure to keep losing weight even when it becomes unhealthy. Similarly, many people receive positive feedback from others in their life after losing weight while on a diet. This can create a need for affirmation that leads you to continuously lose weight through increasingly dangerous dieting habits.
Stressful Life Changes
Stress can cause or exacerbate many mental health issues. As such, periods of upheaval in your life are among the common factors that can increase the risk of an Eating Disorder.
Major transitions like moving or changing jobs can be a significant source of stress and anxiety, even if the change is ultimately positive. Events like breakups or the death of a loved one can also have a severely negative effect on your mental health.
Dealing with these or other similar situations can cause severe anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, a negative body image, and other behaviors or symptoms commonly associated with Eating Disorders. Furthermore, if you’ve experienced an Eating Disorder in the past, you’re more likely to face relapse or worsening symptoms during a stressful life event.
Proximity to Individuals With Eating Disorders
Like other self-harming behaviors, Eating Disorders can develop through peer contagion in certain settings. If you are close to someone with an Eating Disorder, you’re more likely to develop your own Eating Disorder through imitation, and both disorders can worsen through peer pressure, competition, and other adverse behaviors. This is especially true for individuals who already struggle with anxiety, low self-esteem, and other risk factors.
Social Stigma and Expectations
There are several sociocultural factors that can influence your experience with Eating Disorders. Discrimination and stereotypes revolving around body shape can encourage individuals to use any means possible, including dangerous behaviors like self-starvation or purging, to achieve society’s ideal body shape.
Many cultures also have gendered expectations about body shape and image. The need for women to be thin and men to be muscular creates additional pressure for individuals to achieve an ideal—and often unattainable—body shape.
These stigmas and expectations develop as pressure from media, peers, authority figures, and other influences in your life. Discrimination, bullying, and other negative experiences further encourage people to harm themselves for the sake of achieving an ideal body.
Need for Perfectionism
Individuals who struggle with perfectionism set unrealistically high expectations for themselves and become overly critical when they fail to meet those expectations. Perfectionism is a common source behind self-defeating thoughts and behaviors, so it’s no surprise that many perfectionist individuals also suffer from Eating Disorders.
Loneliness and Isolation
Isolation is a risk factor for many Mental Health Conditions. Feelings of loneliness and isolation lead to a lack of social support, which makes it easier to spiral and continuously suffer without intervention. While it is ultimately up to you to reach out for the help and professional treatment you need, friends and family members make it easier to seek support.
Loneliness and isolation can also lead to related Mental Health Disorders like anxiety. Even if feelings of loneliness don’t directly affect your Eating Disorder, they can cause or exacerbate comorbid conditions that make the situation worse.
Traumatic experiences in childhood or later in life can lead to several different Mental Health Disorders, including Eating Disorders. Violent experiences such as sexual assault or domestic abuse are, unfortunately, common risk factors for Eating Disorders. Recent or past trauma can lead to the development of an Eating Disorder or a different related condition such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD.
Understanding the risk factors of Eating Disorders is only part of your journal to better mental health. It’s also essential to seek professional treatment from a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. Blair Wellness Group offers evidence-based Eating Disorder treatment in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Irvine, Newport Beach and its surrounding areas. If you’re looking for an Eating Disorder Psychologist in the Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Century City, Brentwood, Westwood, Irvine, Newport, Orange County, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Corona Del Mar, Dana Point, Mission Viejo, or Aliso Viejo area, turn to the team at Blair Wellness Group.