About Eating Disorders

No Single Cause of Eating Disorders

There is no single cause of eating disorders. Biological, social and psychological factors all play a role. Evidence suggesting a genetic predisposition shows that anorexia may be more common between sisters and in identical twins. Other research points to hormonal disturbances and to an imbalance of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in the brain that, among other things, regulate mood and appetite.

In most women, an event or series of events triggers the eating disorder and allows it to take root and thrive. Triggers can be as subtle as a degrading comment or as devastating as rape or incest. Times of transition, such as divorce, marriage or starting college, can also provoke eating problems. Parents who are preoccupied with eating and overly concerned about or critical of a daughter's weight and coaches who relentlessly insist on weigh-ins or a certain body image from their athletes may also encourage an eating disorder. So can the pressure of living in a culture where self-worth is equated with unattainable standards of slimness and beauty. Our society's "ideal" body size for a woman has decreased, and the difference between the size of the average American woman and the size many women think they should be has grown tremendously. Twenty years ago, for example, the average fashion model weighed 8 percent less than the average woman; today's models weigh 23 percent less.

Copyright 2003 National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. (NWHRC)