Eating disorders - Causes
There is no simple answer, but these ideas have all been suggested as explanations:
Social pressure: Our social surroundings powerfully influence our behaviour. Societies which don’t value thinness have fewer eating disorders. Places where thinness is valued, such as ballet schools, have more eating disorders. “Thin is beautiful” in Western culture. Television, newspapers and magazines show pictures of idealised, artificially slim people. So, at some time or other, most of us try to diet. Some of us diet too much, and slip into anorexia.
Lack of an “off” switch: Most of us can only diet so much before our body tells us that it is time to start eating again. Some people with anorexia may not have this same body “switch” and can keep their body weight dangerously low for a long time.
Control: It can be very satisfying to diet. Most of us know the feeling of achievement when the scales tell us that we have lost a couple of pounds. It is good to feel that we can control ourselves in a clear, visible way. It may be that your weight is the only part of your life over which you feel you do have any control.
Puberty: Anorexia can reverse some of the physical changes of becoming an adult – pubic and facial hair in men, breasts and menstrual periods in women. This may help to put off the demands of getting older, particularly sexual ones.
Family: Eating is an important part of our lives with other people. Accepting food gives pleasure and refusing it will often upset someone. This is particularly true within families. Saying “no” to food may be the only way you can express your feelings, or have any say in family affairs.
Depression: Most of us have eaten for comfort when we have been upset, or even just bored. People with bulimia are often depressed, and it may be that binges start off as a way of coping with feelings of unhappiness. Unfortunately, vomiting and using laxatives can leave you feeling just as bad.
Low self-esteem: People with anorexia and bulimia often don’t think much of themselves, and compare themselves unfavourably to other people. Losing weight can be a way of trying to get a sense of respect and self-worth.
Emotional distress: We all react differently when bad things happen, or when our lives change.
The vicious circle: An eating disorder can continue even when the original stress or reason for it has passed. Once your stomach has shrunk, it can feel uncomfortable and frightening to eat (16).
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