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Causes of Anorexia

Causes of Anorexia

"I could go on and on about why I 'became' anorexic, but for now I’ll try to give you the simplest answer I can: Growing up my mother expected a lot from me. I was to be smart, beautiful, talented, polite, and the best at absolutely everything. I was pressured to be perfect all the time. When my mother passed away when I was fifteen, to numb out the pain I began dieting which turned into an eating disorder. Ever since puberty I thought I was fat (even though I had always been underweight), so by numbing out the pain with starvation I could kill two birds with one stone," explains Taryn in her online journal.

There is no one specific causes of anorexia. Anorexia is complex disorder and is thought to be caused by a complex constellation of biological, psychological, and environmental factors.

Although the exact causes of anorexia nervosa are unknown, there are some things that may increase the risk for developing the eating disorder. It is important to note, however, that just because a person has the predisposing factor; it does not mean that they will absolutely develop Anorexia. Rather, it increases a person's risk for developing Anorexia but does not guarantee it.

Biological Causes of Anorexia

Biological causes of anorexia that have been identified as risk factors include genetics and biochemistry. People who have a relative who has an eating disorder such as Anorexia Nervosa are at increased risk, up to 50% in some studies, for developing the disorder themselves. In addition, people with Anorexia Nervosa have been found to have changes in serotonin and norepinephrine which are two important neurochemicals that help regulate mood and appetite. Recent studies have also found abnormal brain circuitry in anorexics. Alterations in parts of the brain like the anterior insula which regulate bodily sensations and experiencing food as a reward have been discovered. Having another mood disorder such as anxiety, depression, or a personality disorder also increase risk for Anorexia.

Psychological Causes of Anorexia

Psychological factors that may contribute to the causes of anorexia nervosa include a variety of personality traits including having an obsessive personality, having low self esteem, being very perseverant, and being a perfectionist. Anorexics tend to be overly sensitive to criticism and the opinion of others and have a strong desire to please others.

In addition, stressful life events may contribute to the causes of anorexia. Conflict, family unrest, trauma, sexual abuse, peer pressure, substance abuse in the home, developmental changes, or any type of transition may increase a person's risk for Anorexia Nervosa. In addition, being female and being a teen or young adult increases risk. Changes in weight, both up and down, intentionally and unintentionally, my predispose a person for Anorexia Nervosa, especially if others commented either positively or negatively to the change.

Finally, certain vocations increase risk for developing Anorexia Nervosa. Athletes, actors, dancers, and models are professions where an increased proportion of people suffer from Anorexia Nervosa. The Western emphasis on thinness as a standard of beauty and the reinforcement of this idea in mass media may also contribute to the causes of anorexia.

This complex disease usually requires professional, personalized treatment to address both the psychological and medical issues surrouding anorexia.

Image: detail from the mural 'Anorexia Y Tabaquismo' by Jorge Figueroa Acosta

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