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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago


Experts are not certain what causes eating disorders, but there are some theories. The possible causes are complex, and they may stem from a combination of biological, psychological, family, genetic, social and environmental factors.

  • Biologic factors
    • There is evidence that some people are genetically prone to developing an eating disorder; for example, some studies show that people with a parent or a sibling with an eating disorder may also develop one, which suggests there may be a genetic link
    • There is some evidence that serotonin, a chemical that occurs naturally in our brains, may have some influence on our eating behaviors because it is connected to the regulation of food intake
  • Psychological and emotional health
    • Many people with eating disorders share emotional characteristics, such as low self-esteem, impulsivity, anger management issues, a desire to be perfect, family conflicts and troubled relationships; there is also some evidence that links eating disorders to sexual and emotional abuse, but not everyone with an eating disorder has been abused
  • Social and cultural issues
    • Modern Western culture, including mass media and entertainment, often encourages or reinforces a desire to be thin, and there is also an underlying peer pressure to be thin, particularly among young girls
Last UpdateFebruary 8, 2011


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