What are reasons why people have eating disorders?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that one particular reason why individuals with eating disorders lies in a distorted image of oneself.  The person with an eating disorder views themselves in a physical and psychological perspective fundamentally different than the rest of the world sees them.  It is for this reason that an eating disorder is fundamentally different and difficult to diagnose and grasp.  The perception of the outside world is not as important as the perception of the self.  It is for this reason that counseling for an eating disorder happens on both the level of physical and psychological insight.  This distortion between what is physically evident and what is emotionally perceived helps to feed and perpetuate an eating disorder.  There is not a fixed understanding for what causes it, but it is interesting to note that eating disorders are more common in nations and settings where there is enough food sources.  This helps to enhance the psychological causation for eating disorders, prompting an understanding of the issue on multiple grounds and not merely seeing it in a monolithic manner.

Taylor Smith | Student
Biological, psychological, and social/environmental factors can influence the development of an eating disorder. These are complex and still not fully understood, but sufferers possess some combination of factors from those categories.
Perhaps the most well documented contributing factors to eating disorders are the social ones. Certain cultures value thinness and smaller body types which can put pressure on people to conform to that standard of beauty. These societies may discriminate against and shame people for being overweight, or even a healthy weight that doesn't fall on the lower end of the spectrum.
There are mental illnesses and personality types that are usually present in people who develop eating disorders. This is called comorbidity. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, perfectionism, and other forms of anxiety are among the most common partners of eating disorders.
The specific biological causes are not well known, but a person's genes may play a part in the development of eating disorders. People with parents or siblings who have eating disorders are much more likely to develop their own than someone who comes from a family where this disease is not present. The malnutrition that accompanies these illnesses can also continue to distort a person's thinking; improper food intake can alter brain chemistry and affect thoughts and decisions.
There is no single answer as to why these diseases manifest but rather a combination of many factors.