Risk factors | Eating Disorders Victoria

Eating disorders do not have a single, identifiable cause. There are psychological, biological and social risk factors which may increase the likelihood of an eating disorder developing, as well as behaviours and traits which can be changed (such as dieting, poor self-esteem, perfectionism). Eating disorders can occur across all ages, socio-economic groups and genders. Some potential risk factors for the development of an eating disorder include:


Psychological factors

  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Depression or anxiety
  • A belief that love from family & friends is dependent on high achievement
  • Difficulty expressing emotions and feelings, particularly negative emotions such as anger, sadness, anxiety or fear
  • Ineffective coping strategies
  • Perfectionism
  • Fear or avoidance of conflict
  • Competitiveness
  • Impulsive or obsessive behaviours
  • Highly concerned with the opinions of others, often with a need to please
  • Prone to extremes, such as 'black and white' thinking


Social factors

  • Cultural value placed on thinness as an inextricable part of beauty
  • Current cultural emphasis on the goal to strive for a 'perfect' body
  • Valuing of people according to outward appearance and not inner qualities
  • Media and popular culture's unrealistic portrayal of people's shapes and bodies
  • Pressure to achieve and succeed
  • Professions with an emphasis on body shape and size (eg. dancers, models, athletes)


Biological factors

  • Scientists are currently researching possible biochemical and biological factors and their role in the development of eating disorders. Research has indicated that in some people with eating disorders there is an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain
  • Adolescence and the associated physical, hormonal and neural changes
  • Genetic or familial factors, for example a person who is exposed to a parent or sibling with an eating disorder is at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder themselves. While no conclusive outcome has been reached, research has provided evidence that in some cases this is due to genetic predisposition rather than learned behaviour


External factors

  • Life events, particularly those involving major changes (eg. loss of a family member or friend, the divorce or separation of parents, moving schools or jobs)
  • Dieting
  • Peer pressure
  • Inability to effectively deal with stress
  • Personal or family history of obesity, depression, substance abuse or eating disorders
  • Troubled personal or family relationships
  • Sexual or physical abuse
  • History of teasing or bullying, particularly when based on weight or shape

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