What are the causes and risk factors of anorexia? (2023)

Anorexia is oneeating disorderThis leads people to restrict their food intake to prevent weight gain. This condition is most commonly seen in women - about 4% of the female population are living with the condition.

Anorexia usually progresses until a person becomes underweight. However, despite the obvious change in appearance, a person with this condition will still consider themselves overweight.

This disorder is a recognized mental illness. It has the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder,making proper treatment a matter of urgency for anyone with this condition.

Several factors can be responsible for the development of anorexia. Eating disorders, including anorexia, are complex and involve a range of risk factors, including biological, psychological, and cultural. The risk factors can also interact differently in different people.

Brain and body risk factors in anorexia

While there is still much to be discovered about the causes of anorexia, the link between eating habits and hormones remains strong.

In particular, estrogens (hormones that help grow and develop the reproductive system) have been recognized to directly affect food intake. For example, estradiol - one of the estrogens responsible for the maturation and maintenance of the reproductive system - is known to induce a feeling of satiety. This hormone also prevents the need to eat and can lead to reduced portions being consumed.

A person with anorexia could also be operating on a lack ofNeurotransmitterlike dopamine, which controls eating habits and rewards. This deficiency can also have an impactSerotoninwhich affects impulse control.

Psychological well-being also plays an important role in the progression of anorexia. People with anorexia often struggle with perfectionism. When doubts arise about the importance of one's work, contribution to life, or even its impact on friends and family, these feelings of inadequacy can fuel the development of anorexia.

A person can restrict the amount of food they eat to exercise control over something in their life.

(Video) Eating Disorders: Risk Factors

Low self esteemthat develops from bullying, obesity, or other factors could also lead a person to regulate how much they eat. Likewise, fear, anger, and loneliness serve as common risk factors for anxiety.

family history and genetics

The occurrence of anorexia may also be related to a family history of the condition. Studies show that a person is 7 to 12 times more likely to develop this eating disorder if a family member has lived with it before.

Although anorexia can be common among members of the same family, studies of genetic links remain inconclusive.

Regardless, the family environment remains fertile ground for this condition. Being around parents/caregivers who exercise excessive control over their children or who are highly concerned with appearance, food, image, and/or weight can make the likelihood of anorexia worse.


In some cases, habits built up over the course of daily living can be responsible for the development of anorexia.

People who observe an irregular eating pattern, also known asdisturbed eating, may be on the way to an eating disorder.Likewise, people working in image-centric industries like modeling may feel pressured to maintain their looks through unhealthy eating habits. The same is true for ballet dancers or sports stars in fields like long-distance running, where slimness is an advantage.

The societal standard of valuing thinner bodies has long been evident in the media. On TV and in movies, we've often been confronted with skinny protagonists - sometimes characters with larger bodies are mocked or mocked.

Many clothing stores have limited sizes that are only suitable for thinner bodies. Magazines often tout the latest diets aimed at shedding pounds for "bikini season." These messages all express the importance of being thin - even an implication that being thin means being happier and more successful.

Social media's obsession with looks may also encourage an impressionable mind to restrict their diet in order to conform to an ideal of beauty.

(Video) Eating Disorder: Risk Factors

Psychological effects of reading negative comments on the Internet

How is anorexia diagnosed?

A person living with this eating disorder will usually display a number of identifiable characteristics. Physically, a person with anorexia appears underweight or has lost a significant amount of weight within a few weeks/months.

However, it is important to note that a person does not have to be underweight to have anorexia.

Atypical anorexia, for example, is a diagnosis that shares the psychological and behavioral symptoms of anorexia nervosa, including restrictive eating; However, people with atypical anorexia have a variety of different body weights.

Worrying conditions such as memory loss, irregular periods, low blood pressure, muscle weakness, brittle nails, trouble sleeping, and even purple discoloration on hands and feet are often associated with anorexia. A person exhibits an unusual preoccupation with weight, food, and dieting, and may engage in cleansing behavior.

Anorexia can also cause itDepressionAndobsessionsTrains.

To properly diagnose this condition, a doctor will evaluate a person's thoughts and behaviors about food, their eating habits, body weight and shape, and perceptions of their body.

(Video) Anorexia Nervosa, Causes, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment.

Family history of eating disorders as well as mental disorders is also evaluated. Tests may also be done to determine how severe the condition is and how it affects well-being.

Ultimately, a person's attitude towards weight and diet, as well as their weight classification, will determine whether a diagnosis of anorexia will be made.

Anorexia can actually alter brain structure

Other conditions that resemble anorexia

While anorexia has its distinct characteristics, not every case of low body weight or unconcern about food should be considered an eating disorder. Similar conditions are discussed below.


One of the first signs of cancer is unexplained weight loss. About 40% of people suffering from various types of cancer report this loss after receiving their cancer diagnosis. This condition is known asKachexie– a change characterized by fatigue, loss of skeletal muscle and appetite, and a reduced quality of life.


When the body produces too much thyroid hormone, it can lead to weight loss and an underweight appearance. This is usually caused by an increase in the rate at which the body uses energy.

celiac disease

If a person develops gluten sensitivity, it can impact weight loss. A change in body mass can be linked to a celiac crisis. This is where the body experiences diarrhea, dehydration, and changes in food processing, all of which contribute to weight loss.

Other conditions that can produce symptoms similar to anorexia include malabsorption and irritable bowel syndrome.

(Video) Eating Disorders - Anorexia Nervosa, Binge Eating, Bulimia: Symptoms, Risks, Diagnosis, Treatments

How to treat anorexia

In treating anorexia, target areas include weight gain, improvements in eating habits, and correction of mental/emotional patterns that may promote unhealthy eating behaviors. This can be achieved with the ones listed below.


There are various therapeutic approaches to improve people's attitude towards their appearance and their diet.Acceptance and attachment therapy(ACT) can be used to modify actions such as fasting and voiding that can keep weight down. Also known as New Wave CBT or Third Wave CBT, ACT is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT) can also change negative beliefs about appearance, food, and self-worth. It can also instill a healthier attitude towards these areas.

Other techniques includePsychodynamic Therapy, family treatment, Andinterpersonal therapy. Family-based treatment is one of the most widely used treatments for children and adolescents with anorexia.


While medication is not the first line of treatment, this measure becomes important for patients who are very ill.Olanzapineis often recommended to treat depression and anxiety that may coexist with the eating disorder. It has also been shown to promote weight gain.


When a person's body weight reaches a very low level, professional care may be needed for some time. After sufficient nutrients have been absorbed and improvements are noted, a referral to a residential facility may be made to continue the recovery process.

How anorexia is treated

A word from Verywell

Anorexia is a serious condition, but it is treatable. The earlier someone is treated for anorexia, the better the results. If you're struggling with an eating disorder, resources are available to you.

(Video) Eating Disorder Causes and Risk Factors

Try contacting a psychologist. You can ask your GP for a referral to someone who specializes in eating disorders. With treatment, time, and patience, you can overcome anorexia.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline at1-800-931-2237. For more mental health resources, visit our National Helpline Database.


1. Why are eating disorders so hard to treat? - Anees Bahji
2. What Causes Anorexia Nervosa?
(Eating Recovery Center)
3. Anorexia Nervosa: Causes, Effects on the Brain, and Recovery | Mass General Brigham
(Mass General Brigham)
4. Causes of Eating Disorders
(Eating Recovery Center)
5. Anorexia: Signs & Symptoms
6. What Causes Eating Disorders Risk Factors and Cultural Perspectives
(Nutrition World)


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