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What Causes Eating Disorders?

Old models of psychology pointed to deficient parenting and early trauma as the primary factors responsible in the development of eating disorders. Thanks to advances in the study of psychological disorders, it is now known that eating disorders are influenced by a complex interface between genetic influences, environmental influences, and biology. By studying questions about behavior, brain function, and genetic influences, researchers hope to better understand risk factors for eating disorders, and effective interventions to target the specific areas of the brain affected.

It is currently thought that there is some influence of genetic loading in the etiology of eating disorders. There are currently studies underway to determine whether there is a specific DNA profile that predisposes individuals to eating disorders.

Some initial research suggests there are neurological differences in people with eating disorders. Neuroimaging experiments have found significant differences in brain activity of people with eating disorders, as compared to individuals in the general population. Specifically, those individuals with eating disorders had brain scans that suggested impaired functioning in self-regulation.

Who is at Risk for Eating Disorders?

Usually, people first begin to struggle with disordered eating in their teenage years and in young adulthood. However this is not always the case. A significant number of people develop symptoms as early as childhood, or late into adulthood.

Females are significantly more likely to develop an eating disorder than males. This is thought to be partly a result of western associations of thinness with female beauty, causing a distorted sense of body image. However, males are not immune, and like females, males with eating disorder also have distorted body image.

It is notable that a condition called dysmorphia, which is an extreme concern with becoming more muscular is not considered an eating disorder. Individuals with dysmorphia see themselves as smaller than they actually are, and frequently use extreme methods to bulk up, such as using steroids.