Eating disorders are more than about food, weight loss, and body image. Eating disorders begin as pathological behaviors that turn into disruptive disorders that can create conflict within the individual and every aspect of their life. Bulimia nervosa, orthorexia, and anorexia nervosa are all disorders that are dictated by body image, shame, and the need for control. Both genetics and a multitude of social factors are known to cause eating disorders, but to what extent.
What causes eating disorders?
The American Psychological Association (APA) has shown that past abuse or trauma, low-self esteem, bullying, poor parental relationships, borderline personality disorder, substance abuse, non-suicidal self-injury disorder (NSSI), a perfectionistic personality, difficulty communicating negative emotions, difficulty resolving conflict, and genetics are known underlying triggers that contribute to the development of an eating disorder.
Approximately 30% of individuals who engage in self-harm behaviors such as cutting will engage in binging and purging behaviors. Maternal psychopathology such as negative expressed emotion, the thrive for perfectionism, and maternal encouragement of weight loss can lead to the development of eating disorders in children and teenagers.
Genetics and eating disorders
Most people don’t realize the extent to which the brain controls their appetite, rather than something they learn. Appetite and satiety are physiological processes and not learned behaviors; however, many individuals associate emotions and early childhood patterns with appetite, satiety, and hunger. Researchers have been successful in narrowing down the genes in specific areas of the brain that control appetite, which is determined by satiety and responsiveness to food cues such as taste, smell, and sight. Researchers from University College London (UCL) are developing a study to help identify eating disorders at an early stage, prevent them from developing and develop new drug treatments that target appetite and satiety.
Looking at the research
Researchers believe that the same genetic material that is responsible for disordered eating may also be responsible for eating patterns that develop into obesity, particularly in childhood. This study will not only focus on eating patterns but will also explore how parents’ feeding practices affect children’s eating habits during adolescence. Parents have a huge impact on the way kids view food from an early age. Labeling “bad” food and “good” food, having kids eat their plate clean, restricting their kids from certain food groups and placing an emphasis on weight and body image are all known triggers that can produce unhealthy eating habits and even lead to the development of eating disorders later on in life. According to the study,
“We are trying to look for parental feeding practices that predict a healthy relationship with food – plus genetic susceptibility and how that affects appetite, to try to identify the best strategies parents can use to help their child develop a healthy relationship with food. In the field, what’s been talked about more is the social things, the extent to which the parent talks to the child about the child’s weight and their weight and whether their parents have eating disorders. What we don’t know are the child’s traits and predispositions.”