Uncovering the Roots: Why Do I Have an Eating Disorder?

Do you have an eating disorder and wonder - why me? Eating disorders arise from a complex interplay of biological, psychological, and social factors. This article explores common causes and risk factors that may explain why you developed an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are serious and complex illnesses that affect both physical and mental health. They are not choices or phases. If you have an eating disorder, you did not choose to have one. There are valid reasons why your eating disorder developed.

This article will explore some of the common root causes and risk factors behind eating disorders to help you understand why you may have developed one. With this insight, you can find self-compassion and chart a path towards recovery.

Biological Factors That Can Contribute to Eating Disorders

Our biology can influence our likelihood of developing an eating disorder in many ways:


Some people are born with a genetic predisposition to eating disorders. Genes affect our temperament, personality traits, and body chemistry - all factors that can raise eating disorder risks.

If you have a close relative with an eating disorder, you are more likely to develop one. But genes alone don't predict your destiny. Environmental triggers also play a big role.

Brain Chemistry

Imbalances in brain chemicals and hormones can affect mood, appetite, impulses, and obsessive behaviors. These imbalances may predispose some people to disordered eating patterns.

For example, low levels of serotonin are linked to depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder - all common in eating disorders. Abnormal levels of hormones like estrogen, cortisol, and leptin can also influence disordered eating behaviors.

Puberty and Changing Hormones

The hormonal changes of puberty can be a trigger for some eating disorders. Surging levels of estrogen, growth hormone, cortisol, and other hormones can profoundly impact mood, growth, and metabolism.

Some teenagers develop disordered eating in an attempt to halt weight gain and body changes during this period. The stresses and pressures of adolescence can also contribute.

Psychological Factors That May Underlie Eating Disorders

Our psychology influences how we perceive our bodies, food, and health. Some common thought patterns and personality traits may raise eating disorder risks:

Low Self-Esteem

Poor body image and lack of self-worth are hallmarks of eating disorders. When you feel bad about yourself, controlling food and weight may seem like the answer.

Events that damage self-esteem, like bullying or abuse, can be triggers. Our cultural overemphasis on thinness also chips away at self-acceptance.


Perfectionists have high standards and brutal self-criticism. This drives disordered eating behaviors like calorie counting and compulsive exercise.

Perfectionism is both a risk factor and consequence of eating disorders. The eating disorder voice demands perfection, worsening self-judgement.

Difficulty Coping with Emotions

Many with eating disorders use food to numb or distract from painful emotions. Starving, bingeing, or purging can serve as unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Those who lack other ways to handle sadness, stress, anger, shame, and anxiety are more prone to eating disorders.

History of Trauma or Adverse Experiences

Trauma from sexual abuse, neglect, household dysfunction, bullying, or other adverse childhood experiences raises eating disorder risks.

Sufferers use disordered eating to dissociate from emotional pain or regain a sense of control. Up to 80% with eating disorders report some trauma history.

Social and Environmental Contributors

The world around us also influences eating disorder development through:

Cultural Pressures for Thinness

Slender bodies dominate media images and set an unrealistic standard. The multi-billion dollar diet industry exploits and worsens body dissatisfaction.

Constant messaging that we must alter our bodies to be happy and successful drives disordered eating behaviors in many.

History of Dieting or Calorie Restriction

Chronic dieting disrupts normal hunger cues and metabolism. This makes binge eating more likely. Dieting also reinforces external control over food intake.

Up to 75% with eating disorders start with a diet. Dieting alone seldom leads to eating disorders, but for some it is a risk factor.

Peer Influences

Peer pressure and bullying around weight, food choices, or body shape can trigger eating disorders. Friends or partners may intentionally or unintentionally enable disordered eating.

Comparing ourselves to others and fear of judgement drives dangerous weight control behaviors for some, especially teens.

Stressful or Traumatic Events

Major life changes like divorce, job loss, death of a loved one, or sexual assault can trigger disordered eating. Eating disorders may represent an attempt to cope.

Even positive changes like college or moving out cause stress that may awaken an eating disorder in those predisposed.

Family Dynamics

Chaotic, critical, or emotionally distant family environments make eating disorders more likely. Enmeshment and lack of secure attachment are risks.

Parents with an eating disorder or who diet often pass disordered attitudes about food and weight to children.

The Path to Recovery Starts with Insight

As you can see, the roots of eating disorders are complex, multifaceted, and unique to each person. A blend of biological, psychological, social, and environmental factors come together to form these serious illnesses.

The reasons why you developed an eating disorder were outside of your control. But the good news is you have the power to choose recovery now.

Understanding why your eating disorder started can help you find self-compassion and chart a path forward. With insight into the factors that gave rise to your illness, you can:

  • Let go of self-blame and instead extend kindness to yourself

  • Identify triggers and warning signs unique to you

  • Build supports and coping skills to prevent relapse

  • Find a treatment approach that addresses your specific symptoms and causes

  • Shift from externally trying to control your body to internally caring for your whole self

You did not choose to have an eating disorder, but you do have the power to choose recovery. With professional treatment tailored to your needs and story, healing is possible.

Seeking Help for Your Eating Disorder

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, reach out for support. Here are some ways to get started:

Talk to Your Doctor

Your primary care physician can rule out medical causes, provide an initial assessment, and refer you to specialists. Be honest about all your symptoms.

Find an Eating Disorder Specialist

Look for a therapist and dietitian who specialize in eating disorders. They can provide coordinated care. Ask about their experience and approaches.

Consider Residential Treatment

For severe cases, residential treatment provides 24/7 care from a whole team of professionals. The structured environment facilitates healing.

Join a Support Group

In-person and online support groups connect you with others recovering from eating disorders. Shared understanding is healing.

Lean on Family and Friends

Don't isolate yourself. Let loved ones provide meals, accountability, distractions, and emotional support. Give them resources to help.

Prioritize Self-Care

Carve out time for sleep, relaxation, and fun each day. Build other aspects of health like relationships, purpose, and resilience.

Recovering from an eating disorder takes time, setbacks are normal, and support makes a big difference. But healing is possible, especially when you understand the roots of your illness. With compassion for yourself and commitment to your health, you can overcome your eating disorder.

If you are struggling, help is available. Contact the National Eating Disorders Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 or for resources and treatment options. You deserve support.