Evidence-Based Comprehensive Psychological, Nutritional and Medical Care

Causes of Anorexia Nervosa: Factors that Contribute to & Cause Anorexia

Symptoms of Anorexia can be very apparent, but it is difficult to determine the specific cause of anorexia. Experts believe that anorexia arises due to a combination of environmental factors and genetics. Studies have found that possible causes of anorexia include factors such as personality, genetics, environment, biochemistry, and overall psychological and emotional health. It is important to realize, however, that these causes of anorexia nervosa are not necessarily black and white. Therefore, if someone displays several risk factors, this does not guarantee that they will develop an eating disorder. However, the more of these contributing factors and causes of anorexia that a person possesses, the more likely they are to develop an eating disorder.

Biological Causes of Anorexia

There is some evidence to support that some people may be genetically more likely to develop eating disorders. For example, eating disorders tend to run in families. Therefore, a young woman with a biological sister, mother, or other relative who suffers from an eating disorder is more than 10 times as likely to develop an eating disorder herself as compared to someone whose relatives do not show a history of anorexia. Families should take special care to make certain a young persons weight remains in a healthy range and eating stays in balance. Some studies have even shown the heritably of eating disorders, including anorexia, to be over 50%. While it is not particularly clear how these biological risk factors interplay, research suggests specific chromosomes that may be associated with an increased susceptibility to anorexia nervosa.

Biological factors may include an abnormal biochemical make up of the brain, which makes certain individuals more likely to develop an eating disorder. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) is responsible for releasing certain neurotransmitters including serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which regulate stress, mood, and appetite. In studies of individuals with eating disorders, it has been found that serotonin and norephinephrine levels maybe decreased. This suggests a link between abnormal biochemical make up and functioning of the HPA and the likelihood that an individual will develop an eating disorder.

Psychological Causes of Anorexia

Researchers believe that several psychological and emotional characteristics can be linked as causes of anorexia. For example, people suffering from anorexia tent to have low self-worth and low-self esteem as compared to other individuals. Additionally, individuals with anorexia generally exhibit obsessive behaviors regarding food and diets and may often also display obsessive-compulsive personality traits in other parts of their life. Finally, another possible psychological cause of anorexia may be a strong, even extreme drive for perfectionism. Because of this desire for perfectionism, individuals who develop anorexia are led to think that they are never thin enough regardless of how much weight is lost.

Sociocultural Causes of Anorexia

A commonly discussed and debated cause of anorexia stems from the sociocultural influences commonly found in modern Western culture. Because Western culture reinforces a desire for thinness and often displays extreme, unrealistic thinness as beautiful through popular models and actors, it is commonly blamed as resulting in an increased likelihood that individuals will develop anorexia. Similarly, success and self-worth are commonly associated with being thin in this culture. Further fueling the desire to be thin, and thus increasing the risk for dangerous eating disorder behavior, can be peer pressure and teasing others about looks or weight.

When to Begin Anorexia Treatment

Regardless of the exact causes of anorexia, if you feel that you or a loved one may be suffering from anorexia nervosa, it is important to begin eating disorder treatment as soon as possible. The dangerous health risks of anorexia that can occur in both teens and adults make this a serious mental disorder that requires professional treatment. McCallum Place Eating Disorder Centers in St. Louis and Kansas City can help you begin the anorexia treatment program that is right for you to overcome this life threatening disorder and return to a happy and healthy lifestyle.

Marks of Quality Care
  • Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA)
  • Eating Disorder Coalition of Iowa
  • International Association Of Eating Disorders Professionals (IAEDP)
  • National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD)
  • National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
  • RenewED, Eating Disorders Support
  • Washington University in St. Louis

I had not found a therapist who 'got it' until I came to McCallum place.

– ES, age 26