How Eating Disorders Develop

Mental Illnesses and Eating Disorders


Mental illnesses are often the culprit when it comes to the origin of how eating disorders come to be. Depression and anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders that can aid in the development of unhealthy eating habits. Mental illnesses make it easier to be susceptible to low self-esteem, body image issues, feelings of losing control, and inadequacy.

People commonly misperceive that individuals with eating disorders are “vain” or that eating disorders are all about wanting to look thin like models in the magazines. However, the reality is that eating disorders are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. — Jennifer Rollin MSW, LCSW-C

When it comes to anxiety disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is usually the culprit for eating disorders that sprout from mental illness. It’s easy for those with OCD to develop unhealthy eating habits, many who are diagnosed have strict rituals that they’ve convinced themselves are crucial to practice.

Depression also has a large correlation to eating disorders, particularly bulimia. Scientists have discovered that quite a lot of patients with bulimia have extremely low serotonin levels.

Serotonin regulates one’s mood, specifically happiness, and enjoyment. Depression is almost always caused by a decrease in serotonin levels. Because of this, the medication that is used to treat the symptoms of depression can also be very beneficial in treating bulimia.

Social Factors and Social Anxiety

Social standards contribute to the development of eating disorders in a considerable amount. Society places a lot of importance on image that is considered attractive, most of which involve being thin, muscular, or an unrealistic combination of both. Since this societal image is quite unattainable, those who are pressured by the cultural standards turn to unhealthy ways of losing weight in an attempt to meet the criteria that have been placed upon them.

In this same vein, social anxiety is another extremely common anxiety disorder that can cause eating disorders to develop. Social anxiety makes it difficult for those inflicted to interact with others without feeling nervous or worried that they’ll be disliked. Coupled with the societal standards, those inflicted with social anxiety can have a lot of trouble with body image and self-worth.

Many people who don’t “look like they have an eating disorder” based on their weight, gender, or skin color are not identified as having an eating disorder by medical professionals. — Alexis Conason Psy.D.


Biological Factors

According to recent studies, it’s apparent that biology and genetics can have a correlation to one’s likelihood to develop an eating disorder. The chemicals of the brain can be imbalanced, which affects eating habits. There can be problems with a patient’s hypothalamus, which controls eating behaviors and feelings of being satisfied in relation to food. For bulimia, in particular, the hypothalamus may have issues processing the feeling of being full, making those affected feel like they’re never completely full.

Heredity also plays a huge role in the probability of developing an eating disorder. It’s been discovered that those with family members who have had an eating disorder are much more likely to be diagnosed with one in their lifetime. Eating disorders often run in families; In fact, it’s been discovered that 56% of eating disorder risk factors are inherited.

Personal Experiences

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is yet another mental illness that is notorious for causing eating disorders to be developed. Patients who have had traumatic or distressing life events are much more likely to develop unhealthy eating habits to try and cope with their experiences.

Traumatic events such as physical or sexual abuse can leave patients feeling unwanted or unimportant. These feelings of worthlessness can easily create problems with body image, self-esteem, self-worth, and happiness. All of these factors can make those affected much more vulnerable to using unhealthy eating habits as a harmful coping mechanism.

Sometimes attitudes and behaviors emerge in response to the overwhelming despair and hopelessness that accompanies watching a loved one starving herself/himself. — Judy Scheel Ph.D., L.C.S.W., CEDS

Individuals, who develop eating disorders because of past experiences, don’t necessarily have to have PTSD. In fact, bullying can be extremely detrimental as well. People who have been picked on and belittled for their appearance, especially their weight or physique, are much more likely to develop an eating disorder to try and create a version of themselves that is more acceptable to those who have hurt them.

Source: addiction


When it comes to the development of eating disorders, prevention and education are the key to keep more people from obtaining one. Identifying risk factors is crucial to prevent symptoms from being developed or worsening. Biological and hereditary factors should be acknowledged before the eating disorder is developed, or at least acknowledged before the symptoms become too severe. You can also find signs and symptoms in some articles at and

The most important thing to change would be the societal standard. However, it will be a long process. Therefore, education is imperative. Warning signs should be taught in schools and resources should also be publicized. There Until this happens, intervention is necessary to prevent eating disorders.