Unfortunately, we still don't fully understand what causes eating disorders. However latest research is revealing that a combination of genes and environment are involved.
Many people believe eating disorders are simply a case of a diet taken too far. It is now known that although cultural and environmental factors have an impact, genetics play a significant role. Studies have shown that 50-80% of the risk for developing an eating disorder comes from genetics.
Specialists now recognise that in vulnerable individuals an eating disorder is usually triggered by a period of the body receiving inadequate nutrition. This nutritional deficit may be deliberate, or unintentional – for example dieting, illness, certain medications, sports training as well as trauma can be enough to trigger a disorder in a person with a genetic predisposition.
Most people can restrict their diet for a time without risk, but for those predisposed, a period of restriction can trigger physiological, neurobiological and emotional alterations that cascade into a life threatening eating disorder.
The high value that our society places on appearance, the vilification of weight, and admiration of extreme thinness has resulted in dieting being a normalised behaviour. For vulnerable individuals dieting is the "gateway drug" to an eating disorder.