How could we improve it?

This article contains false or inaccurate information.

Please tell us what was incorrect.

Please note that you do not need to fill this detail if it's inconvenient for you. Click Send My Opinion below to continue reading our site.
This article doesn't provide enough info.

Please tell us what was missing.

Please note that you do not need to fill this detail if it's inconvenient for you. Click Send My Opinion below to continue reading our site.
Hmm... I have a question.

We’re unable to offer personal health advice, diagnosis, or treatment, but we welcome your feedback! Just type it in the box below.

If you're facing a medical emergency, call your local emergency services immediately, or visit the nearest emergency room or urgent care center.


Or copy link


Causes of Eating Disorders: It's More Than Just Extreme Dieting

Causes of Eating Disorders: It's More Than Just Extreme Dieting

There are many causes of eating disorders. As a result, diagnosing and treating eating disorders can be difficult. Unlike diseases caused by an infection or physical injuries like a broken bone, eating disorders may be hard to spot. People may not notice the signs and symptoms on their own. It is essential to note that the causes of eating disorders are complex and have mental, physical, and environmental factors that should be addressed together.

Common Causes of Eating Disorders

#1: Peer Pressure

A normal part of growing up is the desire to be accepted by your peers. For teenagers going through puberty, there are physical and emotional milestones that are expected for most. Unfortunately, growing up can be tough and the pressure can drive some to develop eating disorders and other unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Physical and emotional maturity develop dramatically during the teenage years. At 14 years-old, teens try to become more independent from their parents but seek approval from friends. Teens may begin dating or be curious about intimacy at 15. At ages 16 to 18, they may spend more time with friends and develop a better sense of self-awareness.

However, nobody develops the same way at the exact same time. A girl who was thin before puberty may get body shamed by her peers if she gained weight after getting her period. A boy who hasn’t hit his growth spurt may get bullied for being small. There is a pressure from friends, family, and the media to be more feminine or masculine.

Parents and guardians should be aware of their kids’ developmental milestones. Conflict may be unavoidable but families are encouraged to have open communication and provide positive reinforcements. Avoid being overly critical of your children, especially comparing them to other kids as they can be sensitive to these cues.

causes of eating disorders

#2: Media Exposure

With the advent of the internet and social media, it is hard to avoid the constant reminders of what’s trending. While the media is an essential form of communication, it is not without its downsides, often contributing to the causes of eating disorders.

In the Philippines, nearly 70 percent of the entire population uses social media. The average Filipino spends about 4 hours each day on social media sites. These numbers have likely spiked due to the prolonged community quarantine in 2020.

Studies show that teenagers exposed to social media, particularly girls, are more likely to be pressured to become thinner or self-conscious about their bodies. Even 30 minutes of exposure each day can change how people see themselves. Parents should always monitor their children’s internet use until they are mature enough.

#3: Traumatic Events

One of the major causes of eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia nervosa is emotional trauma. Bullying, sexual abuse, or death of a friend or family member can be triggers. Adolescent teenagers and young adults are particularly vulnerable. In relation to this, the majority of eating disorder patients are in this age group.

Trauma (physical or emotional) affects each person differently. Some people may turn to substances to cope, while others use physical or creative outlets. These are a few reasons why people turn to food or exercise when faced with stress.

Bullying makes victims feel self-conscious or inferior. They can feel uncomfortable or disgusted when looking at themselves in the mirror, even if others compliment them. Eating disorders are often accompanied by other mental health problems like anxiety and depression.

Nobody wishes for or plans traumatic events to happen. Unfortunately, these events are largely out of anyone’s control. We should not blame victims; rather, we should support them. While some people are able to overcome their traumas on their own, seeking professional counseling is always a good idea.

causes of eating disorders

#4: Other Medical Conditions

While eating disorders are medical conditions on their own, there are times when another underlying cause may have triggered it. Certain medications and diseases can make people feel nauseous, vomit, or avoid food and drinks. However, under normal circumstances, these symptoms go away after a short time.

Prolonged hospitalization or disabling injuries can turn a person’s life upside down. Even the fittest bodybuilders lose significant muscle mass after being bedridden. Pregnant women often experience bouts of postpartum depression due to changes in their body. In these and other cases, there may be feelings of despair, self-loathing, and a need to regain their old physiques. These can contribute to the causes of eating disorders and increase the risk of developing harmful conditions.

Key Takeaways

The causes of eating disorders are complex and numerous. Oftentimes, people with eating disorders may not even be aware that they have one. Identifying triggers and symptoms of eating disorders are helpful in treating them. Speak to a doctor or psychologist if you are concerned about your weight and health.

Learn more about Eating Disorders here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Eating Disorders: Causes, Symptoms, Signs & Medical Complications https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/eating-disorder Accessed January 7, 2021

Eating disorders: about more than food https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/index.shtml Accessed January 7, 2021

Eating disorder assessment guidelines https://www.upmc.com/services/behavioral-health/eating-disorders/for-professionals/assessment-guidelines Accessed January 7, 2021

What are eating disorders? https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/eating-disorders/what-are-eating-disorders Accessed January 7, 2021

Causes of eating disorders https://www.eatingrecoverycenter.com/conditions/eating-disorders/causes Accessed January 7, 2021

Traumatic events and post-traumatic symptoms in anorexia nervosa https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6830292/ Accessed January 7, 2021

Media & eating disorders https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/media-eating-disorders Accessed January 7, 2021

Social media usage in the Philippines – statistics & facts https://www.statista.com/topics/6759/social-media-usage-in-the-philippines/ Accessed January 7, 2021

Developmental milestones for high-schoolers https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/signs-symptoms/developmental-milestones/developmental-milestones-for-typical-high-schoolers Accessed January 7, 2021

The risk of eating disorder relapse during pregnancy and after delivery and postpartum depression among women recovered from eating disorders https://bmcpregnancychildbirth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12884-020-03006-7 Accessed January 7, 2021

Eating disorder statistics https://anad.org/get-informed/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/ Accessed January 7, 2021

Picture of the authorbadge
Written by Stephanie Nicole Nera, RPh, PharmD Updated Jun 17