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Risk Factors for Anorexia Development

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Anorexia has consistently been called one of the deadliest mental disorders, yet 8 million people in the United States currently suffer from it.

Acknowledgement of the risk factors and preventative steps for those who fall in the riskiest categories can go a long way toward reducing the prevalence of this disorder.


While anorexia can develop at any age, teenagers are the most common victims of the disorder. Teenagers and young adults are already at an uncertain time in their lives when they are going through puberty and their bodies are changing. Bullying, peer pressure, and media standards can have a great effect on mental development at this time, leading to distorted body image and anorexia.


Women and girls are much more likely than boys to develop anorexia. Boys do develop eating disorders, but these often center on weight loss with muscle building and can be harder to detect.

Personality Disorders

Avoidant Personalities

Many people who develop anorexia also exhibit tendencies associated with avoidant personalities. They tend to be inhibited perfectionists who prefer to go with the grain rather than rebel against it. They see themselves as “good,” and their eating disorder helps them maintain that image.

Obsessive Compulsive Personality

Having an obsessive compulsive personality is not equated with obsessive compulsive personality disorder, but it is a risk factor. Obsessive compulsive personality traits like perfectionism and having established rule-based patterns are strongly associated with anorexia as some restricters focus on perfectionism and highly regimented food schedules.

Narcissistic Personality

Narcissistic personalities have an inflated sense of self-worth, which often cannot be healthily sustained. They’re unable to soothe themselves or empathize with others and are very sensitive to criticism, a trait shared with those who have avoidant personalities.

Body Weight and Body Image

Often, but not always, those who develop eating disorders were overweight at the onset of their disorder. Being overweight can lead to poor body image based on peer and media influences. This poor body image and subsequent low self-esteem leads teenagers to extreme dieting and anorexia behaviors.

Body Image Disorders

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

This extreme form of negative body image is extremely damaging in that it is highly associated with eating disorders and emotional disorders. People with body dysmorphic disorder often fixate on certain parts of their bodies that they want to change, which leads to the eating disorders.

Muscle Dysmorphia

Muscle dysmorphia is very similar to body dysmorphic disorder, but the individual fixates on muscle development instead of bodily flaws. Men are much more likely to develop muscle dysmorphia than women.

Competitive Athletics

Certain athletic sports that emphasize speed and small frames are more conducive to anorexia development than others. Examples include long distance running, gymnastics, ice skating, cheerleading, dancing and wrestling.

These risk factors are by no means comprehensive, but targeting prevention to those most at risk will help educate and possibly stop them from developing the disorder.

Source: The New York Times