Eating disorders, disordered eating, and issues with body image are complicated problems that do not develop over night. There are many misconceptions about how these problems do develop, but knowledge about risk factors can help with prevention and intervention. Risk factors can be classified by type: biological, psychological, social, and interpersonal.
Biological. Research has suggested that there may be biological or biochemical causes of eating disorders and disordered eating. For some individuals, certain chemicals in the brain that control signals of hunger, satiety, and digestion have been found to be unbalanced. Additionally, other research has shown that eating disorders run in families and there may be a significant genetic contribution.
Social. For both men and women, there are cultural pressures that may contribute to the development of eating issues. Presentations of bodies in the media support the idea that “beautiful” or the “perfect body” means needing to obtain a specific body weight or shape. Even racial or ethnic discrimination and prejudice may contribute to the development of eating disorders among persons of color.
Psychological. There are several pathways that may result in eating disorders, such as stress, depression, anxiety, feelings of lack of control or inadequacy, and low self-esteem.
Interpersonal. Difficulties with relationships with others may also cause individuals to develop difficulties with food and body image. A history of bullying or being ridiculed based on size or weight may also contribute to body image dissatisfaction.
There are many risk factors that contribute to eating disorders or disordered eating. These problems are complex and will not develop because of one risk factor alone. However, learning more about disordered eating, eating disorders, and body image can raise awareness and reduce some controllable risk factors, such as body dissatisfaction or self-esteem.