Academic journal article Journal of Eating Disorders

Perceptions of the Causes of Eating Disorders: A Comparison of Individuals with and without Eating Disorders

Academic journal article Journal of Eating Disorders

Perceptions of the Causes of Eating Disorders: A Comparison of Individuals with and without Eating Disorders

Article excerpt

Authors: Elizabeth H. Blodgett Salafia (corresponding author) [1]; Maegan E. Jones [1]; Emily C. Haugen [1]; Mallary K. Schaefer [1]


Eating disorders have increasingly become the focus of research studies due to their prevalence, especially in Western cultures. Of the adolescent and young adult populations in the United States, for example, between .3 and .9?% are diagnosed with anorexia nervosa (AN), between .5 and 5?% with bulimia nervosa (BN), between 1.6 and 3.5?% with binge eating disorder (BED), and about 4.8?% with eating disorder otherwise not specified (EDNOS) [1]?[4]. According to the fifth edition of the DSM, individuals that do not fit the criteria for AN, BN or BED are diagnosed with sub-threshold or atypical conditions that fit under other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) [5]. Due in part to decreased thresholds for the diagnoses of AN, BN or BED in the DSM-V, rates of OSFED have been found to be lower than previous rates of EDNOS, while the rates of AN, BN or BED have stayed the same or slightly increased [6]. Furthermore, the age at onset is concerning, as most eating disorders originate during adolescence [4]. Despite the potentially serious health consequences that result from disordered eating [7], many in the general public believe that issues with eating are due to personal shortcomings [8], [9]. This creates a foundation of stigma regarding why individuals develop an eating disorder (e.g., to be ?skinny?) and the purpose the disorder serves (e.g., to gain control). Such stigma may dishonor the actual experience of those who have lived with an eating disorder, as people could assume eating disorders are self-inflicted. In turn, those developing unhealthy habits may be discouraged from seeking help [10].

Previous research has identified biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors related to the development of eating disorders. However, it is important to explore individual narratives to identify similarities and differences among individuals with and without eating disorders. Obtaining such knowledge can help scholars determine the public?s educational needs and better target missing gaps in their knowledge. More accurate information may reduce stigma regarding eating disorders, which may in turn encourage those experiencing symptoms to seek help sooner, as they may no longer fear the negative feedback from peers and family that such stigma causes.

Factors that contribute to eating disorders identified by research

Research has identified many risk factors, ranging from individual to sociocultural, that contribute to the development of eating disorders. Based on empirical literature, we present some of the most salient factors below.

Individual factors

Genetics and biology are individual factors that play a role in the development of eating disorders. Genetic contributions to the development of eating disorders have been suggested by twin studies, with heritability estimates ranging from 0.39 to 0.74, depending on the disorder [11]. Abnormalities in the regulation of certain neurochemicals, such as 5-Hydroxytryptamine (HT) and the serotonin-transporter-linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR), have been closely linked with eating disorders [11]?[13]. Further, recent research has identified mutations on two specific genes that have been associated with increased risk of developing eating disorders in families: estrogen-related receptor ? (ESRRA) and histone deacetylase 4 (HDAC4) [14]. In addition, early puberty has also been associated with disordered eating behaviors, potentially due to increases or irregularities in circulating sex hormones, especially estrogen [15], [16].

Body dissatisfaction has been commonly identified as an influential risk factor for eating disorders. Individuals dissatisfied with their bodies are at an increased risk of engaging in disordered eating behaviors such as bingeing and purging in order to gain satisfaction and move closer to the thin ideal [14], [17]. …

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