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.
Fortunately, our understanding of eating disorders is improving all the time, thanks to research into environmental and genetic factors.
Find out more about our current understanding of eating disorders, and the latest research into their causes.
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