Causes And Risk Factors Of Anorexia Nervosa

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Anorexia Nervosa Mirror

Anorexia is a complex disorder that affects different types of people for different reasons. Many tend to be mistaken when thinking it develops from a desire to be skinny. It rarely develops as a result of one individual issue, like body image or weight management.

People who suffer from anorexia tend to have trouble coping with different challenges in their lives. This struggle to cope results in the symptoms of anorexia. Common causes tend to revolve around environment, mental health, biology, and genetics.

Such common causes include:


  • Stress plays a major role in the onset of anorexia. The Stress can come from social pressure, cultural expectations, and pressure to perform professionally or academically. Many people with anorexia tend to struggle to cope with stress. This struggle can result in the need to maintain a sense of control. This results in excessive exercising and limiting consumption of food.
  • Social and Societal Expectations.Social and societal pressure to act and look a certain way contributes to the onset of poor body image. While body image is not the sole contributing factor, it does play a role in the onset of anorexia. With the pressure put on people to look and act a certain way, people can tend to develop symptoms. These behaviors are closely related to self-esteem and self-image.
  • Family Pressure.Many people with anorexia have strict expectation placed on them to look, act, and perform a certain way. This pressure and criticism from family members serves as a major contributing factor to the onset of anorexia. The desire for acceptance and approval from family members and peers can cause anxiety that results in symptomatic behavior.

Mental Health

  • Suffering from anxiety is a major reason why many develop anorexia. Those who suffer from anorexia tend to have a difficult time with not feeling in control. This may cause a person to seek a sense of control through restricting dieting and pushing the body past its limits. The anxious tendencies also will manifest in a need for perfectionism. This will also cause symptomatic behavior that will result in anorexia.
  • Trauma and/or Abuse.It is not uncommon for a person to develop anorexia as a means to cope with a traumatic event. Those who have suffered from trauma or abuse, especially of a sexual nature, are at risk for developing anorexia.
  • Depression can cause anorexia as it serves as a means to cope with the depressed mood. Those who are depressed will feel a number of depressed feelings and urges. Feelings like guilt, shame, anger, frustration, and a loss of control, can all contribute to symptomatic behavior. A person who is depressed may also experience a diminished appetite, and may find comfort in the control over eating habits.


  • Genetics play a major factor in many cases of anorexia. Those with family members who have anorexia are at high risk to also suffer from anorexia. This can be due not only to genetics, but also modeling symptomatic behavior from a young age.
  • Hormones may also play a role in the onset of anorexia. Many suffer from anorexia as a result of hormonal imbalances. If hormones are a contributing factor to the onset of anorexia, it is important to seek attention from a physician.


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