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4 Factors That Contribute to the Development of Eating Disorders

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How do eating disorders start? There is usually no one single cause, but rather a number of different issues that culminate in an eating disorder. These risk factors could be:

  • Biological factors 
  • Emotional factors 
  • Interpersonal factors 
  • Social factors
  • Psychological factors

What do all these terms mean? How do you know if you may be dealing with something that could be a contributing cause when it comes to your issues with food?

BIOLOGICAL CAUSES

The subject of biological causes for eating disorders is continually being researched. Some propose that chemicals in the brain that control appetite and hunger may be a part of the story and that, when unbalanced due to genetics, accident or disease, can cause people to develop disordered eating habits. How to identify these issues and remedy them are still under investigation. What we do know for sure is that eating disorders – like other mental wellness issues – often run in families. But is it biologically passed from one member to another or an environmental issue that occurs when family members develop similar habits? Again, that is a question that is currently up for debate.

INTERPERSONAL CAUSES

Many use food to medicate emotional issues and there are few things more emotionally disturbing than interpersonal relationships. Problems that can trigger eating disorder issues range from moderate to severe, including:

  • Breakups, divorce and on-again/ off-again romantic relationships
  • Difficulty expressing emotions or emotional attachments to others
  • Past issues with being victimized by bullies or teased, especially about body image
  • Past or current issues of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and/or domestic violence

SOCIAL CAUSES

The importance that the media places on a particular beauty ideal varies from culture to culture, and in our country, tall and skinny is the media’s version of perfection. Actresses are airbrushed in magazines to look as close to the ideal body size as possible, models for almost every line of clothing are thin, and the cultural norm is to judge people based on their body shape. This distorted body image can make it difficult for those who are also dealing with other emotional or interpersonal issues to handle the pressure without developing disordered habits with eating. Although body dissatisfaction is one of the factors that can contribute to the development of eating disorders, it is not the main cause.

PSYCHOLOGICAL AND EMOTIONAL CAUSES

Psychological issues like low self-esteem, feeling a lack of control over stressful issues in your life, feeling inadequate, or struggling with mental disorders like depression, anxiety disorders, or obsessive-compulsive disorder can all trigger you to attempt to regain control through food or find comfort in eating. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is often connected with eating disorders since many behaviors may overlap, such as obsessive thoughts about food and food rituals, along with unhelpful beliefs. If you are using food to self-medicate feelings associated with the above problems, eating disorder treatment can help.

TYPES OF EATING DISORDERS 

Keep in mind that eating disorders, in general, are complex, and some eating issues will not meet the diagnostic criteria. But this shouldn’t make you take any eating issues lightly. Some of the common eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia nervosa is probably the most well-known eating disorder. It usually develops during adolescence and early adulthood and affects more women than men. People with anorexia nervosa are extremely underweight but often view themselves as overweight. This distorted body image and body dissatisfaction are compounded by the fact that they have an intense fear of weight gain and take extreme measures to control weight. Studies indicate that anorexia nervosa had the highest mortality rate of all eating disorders, with a rate of 10.4%.
  • Bulimia nervosa is yet another well-known eating disorder, which, like anorexia, develops during adolescence and early adulthood and is more common in women than in men. People with bulimia nervosa often eat unusually large amounts of food until they are painfully full. They then follow these episodes of binge eating with unhealthy compensatory behaviors such as purging to atone for the effects of binge eating. But it is worth noting that people with bulimia often maintain normal body weight, unlike people with anorexia. Studies indicate that bulimia nervosa had a mortality rate of 3.9%.
  • Binge eating disorder is another eating disorder that develops during adolescence and early adulthood, but people can also develop it even later in life. Like bulimia nervosa, people with binge eating disorder eat relatively large amounts of food within a short period and sense a loss of control during such episodes. But they do not follow these episodes with compensatory behaviors such as purging. Binge eating disorder is one of the latest disorders formally recognized in the DSM-5. 
  • Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED)are a category of eating disorders that include individuals who do not meet the full criteria for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder but still have significant eating issues. Studies indicate that OSFED had a mortality rate of 4%.
  • Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), previously known as Selective Eating Disorder (SED), is a new diagnosis in the DSM-5. It is similar to anorexia nervosa in the sense they both include limitations in the amount or types of food consumed. But, unlike anorexia, those with AFRID are not preoccupied with body shape and body mass or have an intense fear of weight gain. Individuals with this disorder diagnosis have such disordered eating habits due to a general lack of interest in eating or repulsion for certain tastes, smells, textures, or temperatures.
  • Rumination disorder is a disturbing eating disorder where an individual regurgitates food they have already chewed and swallowed, re-chews it, and then either swallows or spit it out. Generally, those with this disorder who regurgitate their food do not seem to make an effort or feel stressed, upset, or disgusted by this practice. Rumination disorder can develop during infancy, childhood, or adulthood. In infants, this can develop between three to 12 months and disappear on its own. But in children and adults, it requires therapy to prevent it from resulting in fatal malnutrition.

TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR EATING DISORDERS 

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that require specialized treatment. Treatment for eating disorders typically involves a combination of medical, nutritional, and psychological interventions. No matter the cause, if you are struggling with an eating disorder, help is available.

An eating disorder treatment program can vary depending on your particular disorder and disorder symptoms. But, it typically includes a combination of psychotherapy (psychological therapy), nutritional counseling, medical monitoring, and sometimes medications. 

Medical treatment may be necessary to address any physical complications resulting from the eating disorder, such as malnutrition or electrolyte imbalances. Nutritional treatment may involve working with a registered dietitian to develop a meal plan that meets the individual’s nutritional needs and supports recovery. Psychological treatment may include individual therapy, group therapy, or family-based therapy and may focus on addressing the underlying psychological factors contributing to the eating disorder.

Eating disorder treatment can also involve treatment approaches to address other psychiatric disorders caused by an eating disorder, such as substance abuse, which can turn serious or even life-threatening if they go untreated for a considerable period of time. If an eating disorder does not show improvement with standard treatment or causes other medical conditions, you may need hospitalization or another form of inpatient treatment. 

At Futures of Palm Beach we understand that the causes of an eating disorder are unique to each person’s situation. Our customized treatment programs are tailored to address the needs of each individual. If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, contact us today and talk to our mental health professionals and learn how you can start your eating disorder recovery journey

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