Anorexia nervosa affects millions of men and women in the United States and is not a choice but rather a disorder that stems from underlying triggers and genetic components. It is important to understand that you are not to blame for developing anorexia nervosa and you should focus on seeking treatment rather than self-blame. The cause of anorexia nervosa is rarely about food or weight but rather about unresolved negative emotions and past traumas that result from the complex intertwining relationships between social, biological, and psychological factors, which can be rooted deep within the individual since early childhood. Anorexia nervosa results from severe maladaptive behaviors triggered by trauma, anxiety, fear, low self-esteem, and difficulty resolving conflicts. It is not due to a failure of behavior or will, nor is it easily controlled.

Trauma: A Cause of Anorexia

Trauma comes in all forms, from sexual abuse physical assault, or severe discipline in childhood, to witnessing a violent attack, natural disasters, or war. Trauma can result from emotional, physical, and verbal battle wounds. Maybe you were continuously disciplined in a harsh manner as a child or you were in an abusive romantic relationship. Or maybe you were bullied in school and always compared to your siblings while growing up. Individuals who have experienced any form of trauma are more at risk for developing an eating disorder if these unresolved feelings from the traumatic experience are not appropriately dealt with.

Social Causes of Anorexia Nervosa 

Anorexia nervosa is thought to be due to the failure to fit in with today’s society. Peer pressure, preoccupation with slenderness and beauty, gaining autonomy, identity conflicts, and the slippery slope of weight loss are plausible social factors many experts believe contribute to anorexia nervosa. Many young girls become praised when they lose a little bit of weight such as five pounds and this praise leads down a path to more and more weight loss. Here are additional predisposing social factors that can lead to anorexia:

  • Perfectionistic personality
  • Difficulty communicating negative emotions
  • Difficulty resolving conflict
  • Low self-esteem
  • Maternal encouragement of weight loss and negatively expressed emotion from the individual’s mother
  • Specific occupations or hobbies that focus on weight, such as gymnastics, ballet, modeling, figure skating, wrestling, long-distance running, or acting

Genetic & Psychological Factors that Cause Anorexia Nervosa

Some people may develop anorexia nervosa because of genetics or psychologically.

Evidence from twin studies has shown there may be a large genetic component to developing anorexia nervosa. Studies have shown that there may be a 50-80% heritability factor contributing to anorexia nervosa. Specific genes have been discovered that may contribute to the development of anorexia nervosa.

Individuals with anorexia nervosa have an increased likelihood of developing another mental health disorder or vice versa. Co-occurring disorders in the mental health community are known as two mental health disorders that occur at the same time and one or the other could have been the cause. Therefore, anxiety could lead to anorexia nervosa or anorexia nervosa could lead to anxiety. Known co-occurring psychological disorders associated with anorexia nervosa are anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and self-harm behavior.

There’s Hope to Overcome Anorexia Nervosa

Whether the cause of your anorexia nervosa stemmed from societal factors, past traumatic experiences or because of something in your genes, you can find help to overcome it. Contact Center for Discovery to receive evidence-based, trauma-informed treatment in centers across the country.

More on Center for Discovery