What is an eating disorder?

What causes an eating disorder?

Causes and Risks
Eating Disorders are very complex illnesses. We still don’t fully understand what causes them. Many things are involved, including mental health, genetic and biological factors, and social environment. The reasons are different for each person.

Some risk factors for developing an eating disorder are:

  • striving to be perfect in one or more areas
  • low self-esteem
  • poor body image
  • social pressure to be thin
  • problems coping and dealing with stress
  • bullying
  • challenges in relationships with friends and/or family
  • abuse or trauma
  • neglect
  • taking part in a sport or activity that puts a lot of emphasis on weight or size (modeling, ballet, gymnastics, wrestling)
  • type 1 diabetes

Even though we don’t understand all the causes of eating disorders, we can still effectively treat them. There are evidence-based therapies that reduce eating disorder symptoms and lead to recovery from the eating disorder. These therapies focus on the factors that contribute to eating problems, and keep the eating disorder symptoms going, rather than the “root cause”. Visit the treatment section to learn more about the different types of treatment for eating disorders.

“The only difference about being a male and having an eating disorder is that people think ‘what’s wrong with you? How could you have an eating disorder — it’s not a guy thing’. I believe the main reason for that is how much the media influences how females are supposed to look and act. Even though the spotlight is on women, there are thousands of men struggling with eating disorders.” ~Tyson

Eating Disorders and the Media


Movies, television, social media and magazines do not always show a diverse range of body shapes and sizes. Messages in the media may include thinness or muscularity being shown as the “ideal” Believing that a certain body type, such as thin or muscular, is ideal can play a role in the development of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. But, eating disorders are complex, and social or cultural factors alone are not enough to cause eating disorders.

Resource List

  • Digital and Media Literacy: Body Image ( English )
Health Professionals: Types of Disorders: How do I know if I have an eating disorder?

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