In today’s world, it is a miracle for a woman not to develop disordered beliefs about eating and body-image. We live in a diet culture and have internalized a host of food rules, which for some, can devolve into an eating disorder. Over 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder, which to this day, has the highest mortality rate compared to all other mental health conditions. It can be difficult knowing when issues with eating can turn into a full-blown eating disorder. As a therapist who specializes in treating eating disorders, part of my job involves teaching clients and their families about facts associated with the various risks involved.
Evidence points to a wide array of biopsychosocial risk factors involved with disordered eating, including genetics, trauma, maladaptive coping mechanisms, culture, and self-esteem issues. Thus, it is essential to consider both biological and environmental factors when assessing the causes of an eating disorder. As top eating disorder researcher and physician, Dr. Cynthia Bulnik, asserts; “Genetics loads the gun, [but] environment pulls the trigger.” While families do not directly cause an eating disorder, chaotic and stressful family dynamics can trigger its development in an already susceptible family member. Additionally, beliefs about eating and body-image are often learned through one’s family system and passed down generationally. It can be challenging to understand what factors cause an eating disorder, as it’s such a complex and multifaceted issue. Continue reading if you wish to learn more about the common risk factors tied to the development of an eating disorder.
1. Low Self-Esteem
Women who suffer from an eating disorder tend to have a harsh internal critic that cause them to believe they are not worthy of love. Dieting turns into a place of refuge for the anorexic, providing her with a means to cope with overwhelming emotions. She suffers from feelings of self-doubt, sadness, and a fear of intimacy. If this sounds like you, then, it’s essential to analyze the underlying issues that caused you to doubt yourself and to feel unworthy in the first place. If you find yourself getting stuck or unable to cultivate more self-compassion, therapy can serve as a great way to expedite this process and learn new tools that will enable you to increase your self-confidence.
2.Desire To Fill A Void
A disordered relationship with food tends to correlate with the desire to fill a void in one’s life, as the rituals associated with the disorder provides the sufferer with temporary relief from her emptiness. An eating disorder is a subconscious attempt to address a deficiency of ego or to fill a void created by self-imposed feelings of inadequacy or shortcomings.
3. An Attempt to Distract
Worrying about weight enables the sufferer to distract herself from thinking about her feelings. Her emotions about the question of “Am I good enough?” instead translates to, “Am I skinny enough?” Sufferers are often unable to express their painful emotions, and it can be hard for them to deal with conflict, so they use restricting, binging, or purging as a means to shut down or to deny their feelings altogether. Humans are meant to feel though and mustn’t ignore the wisdom of what the body is attempting to communicate. For example, women need to explore their anger that they’ve been misdirecting towards their bodies that rightly belongs to a culture of patriarchy, the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, the bullies who’ve shamed them, and a capitalistic diet industry.
4. The Belief In A Lie
Cultural norms place considerable emphasis on the value of a woman’s external appearance and focus less on her inner strengths. To suffer from an eating disorder means to believe in the lie that society has fed you, saying that you “must be thin to be happy.” Ultimately, cultivating a positive relationship with yourself means learning how to honor the wisdom of your body. It means embracing both your strengths and your weaknesses, and not fighting against who you are. Being gentle and forgiving of yourself is an essential facet of establishing an intuitive relationship with your body.
5. Sufferers Are Often Perfectionistic and Achievement-Based
Perfectionism is a significant factor that controls a person who is suffering from an eating disorder. It’s undeniable that women have enormous pressure to achieve and work harder than ever before, women who are perfectionistic believe they have the willpower to do what others do not. As a result, this can lead to black-and-white thinking—causing the sufferer to feel that she is either fat or thin—no in-between.
6. Need For Control
Ultimately, an eating disorder is about control. The anorexic denies her needs to feel ‘virtuous’ or ‘in control,’ as if her needs is something to control. These beliefs are typically learned through her family-of-origin and run deep into their family history. Alternatively, perhaps there’s been a trauma that left her feeling out-of-control and not in-charge of her decisions in life. Ironically though, in doing this, she allows the very thing she wants to control, control her.
7. Lack Effective In Coping Skills
Those who suffer from an eating disorder are often lacking the skills to tolerate negative experiences. Restricting, binging, and purging are behaviors that developed in response to emotional turmoil, a chaotic upbringing, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, stress, or trauma. In the absence of healthier coping skills, eating disordered behaviors tend to provide sharp relief from distress, but then quickly turns to greater physiological and psychological harm. What most eating disorder sufferers fail to recognize is that the very act of trying to avoid internal distress is what keeps them trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle. Repeatedly running away from difficult thoughts and emotions, whether by purging, not eating, drinking alcohol, or any other “fix,” only creates more problems by creating a dependency on avoidance behaviors and teaching nothing about coping with the inevitable challenges in life.