Eating disorders are complex, often a mix of genetic and environmental factors. They develop at a variety of times during a person’s life and tend to be present alongside other emotional and social issues.
The development of eating disorders is largely due to a combination of factors, including social pressures, family dynamics and negative body image. Girls and women are more likely to develop an eating disorder than men. However, it can affect people of any gender and age, though onset is most common during adolescence. Eating disorders can also be triggered by major life changes, such as starting a new school or job, divorce or moving house.
Many people who have an eating disorder have a history of depression or anxiety and these are thought to be predisposing factors to the condition. It is also thought that a history of abuse or neglect may increase the chances of developing an eating disorder.
People who are in close relationships with people who have eating disorders are at a greater risk of developing the disorder themselves. This is because of the high levels of stress that are commonly experienced in these relationships, as well as the difficulty of communicating feelings. In addition, the nature of some eating disorder symptoms – such as vomiting or laxative misuse – can have a direct impact on the quality of relationships.
A number of social factors can lead to the development of eating disorders, including the media’s emphasis on a thin appearance and a lack of realistic body images. This is especially true of models, actors and sports stars, who are generally portrayed as very slim.
Other social factors that can influence an individual’s vulnerability to an eating disorder include a previous experience with bullying or abuse, low self-esteem and poor family dynamics. The presence of family members with a history of eating disorders or other mental health issues such as bipolar disorder can also be a risk factor.
The way people are treated by their families can also have a significant impact on the likelihood of developing an eating disorder. For example, some families become enmeshed with the person affected by an eating disorder and are overly protective. Families that are supportive of their loved ones and provide a safe environment are more likely to help them recover.
The fact that people of all genders, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds can suffer from disordered eating is a further sign of how widespread these disorders are. It is often assumed that eating disorders are a white world problem and are not seen in other cultures, but this assumption is false. It has been shown that eating disorders can occur in men and women of all ages, ethnicities and social classes, and they can affect people from all walks of life, regardless of culture or upbringing. In fact, research has shown that some cultures may have higher rates of eating disorders than others. This is probably due to the fact that some cultures may value a thinner appearance more than others.