Nature vs. Nurture: The Role It Plays in Eating Disorders

What causes someone to develop an eating disorder? Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to answer this question. Stress, emotional trauma, cultural practices, environmental factors, social pressures, and genetic predispositions can all play a role in the development of an eating disorder. In this article, we’ll be investigating one of the less well-known entries on this list: the genetic link in eating disorder causation.

Nature’s Impact on Eating Disorder Occurrence

Contrary to popular belief, there’s a significant amount of evidence linking the development of an eating disorder to key heritability markers. According to the Center for Eating Disorders, individuals with a family connection to someone with an eating disorder are between 7 and 12 times more likely to struggle with the same condition at some point in their life. A study on the incidence of bulimia nervosa in people with first-degree relatives who’ve previously struggled with bulimia nervosa supported this conclusion, with the study yielding a significant increase in occurrence rates.

One of the more complicated aspects of researching the genetic components of eating disorders is the field of high-risk personality factors. According to recent research, personality factors with a high risk of eating disorder correlation include perfectionism, harm avoidance, insecurity, and high achievement. Because our genes help shape our personality traits, it stands to reason that certain genetic compositions may predispose a person to certain eating disorder triggers.

However, the field of behavioral genetics remains divided when it comes to the considerable gender variance in eating disorder occurrence rates. “This is not fully understood,” reports Dr. Ovidio Bermudez, a Chief Clinical Officer at the Eating Recovery Center. “It’s not clear whether it’s nature vs. nurture or both.” In the U.S., approximately 10 million men and 20 million women will suffer from a clinical eating disorder at some point in their life.

Nurture’s Impact on Eating Disorder Occurrence

Despite compelling research on the role of nature in eating disorder occurrence, there remain very strong links between the development of an eating disorder and various psychological, social, and cultural factors. We’ve listed some of these nurture-related factors below:

  • Cultural influences on acceptable body image parameters (e.g. beauty standards set by social media trends and popular mass media content).
  • Family interactions (e.g. parenting styles that directly or indirectly promote anxiety, body shaming, or abnormal eating schedules).
  • Social interactions (e.g. peer and conformity pressure within school or workplace environments).

Nature vs. Nurture

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to eating disorders. For the most part, conditions like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are caused by a multitude of different factors, not a single genetic predisposition or environmental pressure.

Sources: The Active Times, Science of Eating Disorders, Mind Body Thrive, Isabella's Interlude, Curious.Mae
Photo: Pexels

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