Risk factors and Causes of Eating Disorders | Eating Disorders Victoria
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What causes eating disorders?

Home ~ Find support ~ EDV blog ~ What causes eating disorders?

There is no single eating disorder cause

Understanding that you yourself have an eating disorder or coming to terms with the diagnosis of a loved one can be a difficult and confusing experience. Determination to find the cause of an eating disorder can be a natural response to a diagnosis. However, it is important to understand that there is no single cause for any eating disorder.

Eating disorders can affect people from all walks of life

Around 1 million Australians are affected by eating disorders, 234,000 of whom are in Victoria. Eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and ARFID are serious and complex mental illnesses and there is no one demographic of people who experience eating disorders.

Eating disorders do not discriminate and can affect people of every sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, race, cultural and linguistic background, ability, shape or size, and socioeconomic group.

In addition to the diversity of people that eating disorders affect, there is vast diversity of the eating disorder experience itself. Each person’s experience of an eating disorder is unique and challenging in its own way and no one experience is the same.

Contributing causes of eating disorders

The factors that contribute to the development of an eating disorder are varied and intricate. There is no single eating disorder cause, however, a combination of contributing risk factors can play a part including biological, sociocultural, and psychological factors. External factors such as life experiences and personal behaviours and traits may also play a part in the onset of an eating disorder. These factors may contribute to varying extents for different people.

There is also evidence to suggest that a genetic element contributes to the development of eating disorders and that some people may have genetic vulnerability to these mental illnesses. While no conclusive outcome has been reached, it is not uncommon to see eating disorders extend across generations. Research conducted so far has provided evidence that in some cases, eating disorders may be in part due to genetic predisposition.

Risk factors and behaviours

Eating disorders don’t have a single, identifiable cause but there are various psychological, physiological and social risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing an eating disorder.

Read more about risk factors

Can dieting cause an eating disorder?

Diets are not the cause of eating disorders. However, dieting is the single most important behavioural risk factor contributing to the onset of an eating disorder.

Societal pressures, proliferation of messages surrounding the ‘dangers of obesity’ and ‘ideal body’ and associated feelings of low self-esteem can increase the risk of people engaging in unhealthy dieting behaviour.

The rigid, restrictive and unsustainable nature of many diets can have negative and serious physical and psychological effects. Combined with other complex risk factors and behaviours, dieting may contribute to the development of an eating disorder.

Did you know?

The restrictive nature of most diets means they can not only be dangerous but also unsustainable in helping people to lose weight in the long term.

Read more about the dangers of dieting

Parents do not cause eating disorders

Parents may feel blame directed towards them if their child develops an eating disorder. However, there is no evidence that parents or parenting style cause eating disorders.

Many parents caring for a child with an eating disorder experience times frustration, confusion, overwhelm and exhaustion and may feel disappointment that they cannot ‘fix’ or find the cause of their child’s eating disorder. In addition, parents often express feelings of guilt and shame that may be internalised or directed at them from others. These feelings of blame can be a barrier to parents seeking assistance for a loved one.

In many cases, parents actually play an integral role in the recovery process. Supporting a child experiencing an eating disorder is not easy but recovery is possible, and parents are often strong allies for their children through the treatment process and road to recovery.

Are you a parent or carer of someone experiencing an eating disorder?

Parents often find themselves sharing the rollercoaster ride of emotions that go with an eating disorder.

Tips on how to care for your loved one, your family and yourself

Need to have a chat?

If you are concerned about yourself or someone you love, our team at the EDV Hub are here to help.

Contact the Hub

Seeking help

Seeking out and beginning treatment for an eating disorder can be confronting and challenging in many ways. However, seeking professional help as early as possible significantly lessens the severity and impact of eating disorders and is the most effective action for long-term recovery.

While trying to pinpoint an eating disorder cause can be an instinctive response, if you are concerned that yourself or someone you care about is experiencing an eating disorder, it is important to make an appointment with a health professional such as a GP as soon as possible.

Talking to your doctor

Talking about eating disorder concerns with your doctor is an important step for accessing treatment. No matter which GP you see, it’s important that you are prepared for your appointment.

Preparing for your appointment

How EDV can help

We know that recovery from an eating disorder is really hard, and is often not linear but we are here to help you through.

View our broad range of support services
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