Sarah M. Farrell
Sociocultural Causes of Eating Disorders
Sociocultural factors refer to cultural pressure on adolescents to be thin (Peterson et al., 2007). Though these factors should be taken into account, they are not sufficient to cause an eating disorder on their own as all adolescents are likely to experience them. These factors include media pressure to be thin, which leads to less body satisfaction in females and dieting behaviors in males (Bulick et al., 2006; Peterson et al., 2007). The media’s open obsession with thinness creates a standard that most adolescents cannot achieve. The media is currently believed to be a reliable predictor of the development of eating disorder symptoms (Peterson et al., 2007). Pressure from peers and poor peer interactions present another sociocultural risk factor. When conforming is necessary in order to make friends, adolescents become especially vulnerable to dieting behaviors. Peer pressure is negatively related to body dissatisfaction in both male and female adolescents (Peterson et al., 2007).
Individual Factors Causing Eating Disorders
Risk factors relating to the individual domain are also crucial to consider and analyze. Some of the more general risk factors for eating disorders concern the individual domain. These include gender, race or ethnicity, early childhood eating habits, gastrointestinal medical issues, weight concerns, negative self-evaluation, sexual abuse and other traumas, and psychiatric comorbidity (Gowers, 2008). Many adolescents begin dieting behaviors due to poor self-evaluation. Research suggests that the severity of dieting behaviors is the most crucial risk factor for the development of eating disorders in adolescent females (Peterson et al., 2007). The age at which dieting behaviors begin also impacts the development of the symptoms (Peterson et al., 2007). It is also believed that disorders such as anorexia involve a genetic risk (Tozzi et al., 2003) as individuals with a male family member with eating disorders are much more likely to develop the disorder (Bulick et al., 2006). Moreover, the individual’s temperament and personality traits can be predictors of the development of a future eating disorder. These personality traits include harm avoidance, obsessiveness, perfectionism, and low self-esteem (Gowers, 2005; Peterson et al., 2007). Several studies have also suggested that stressful life events and other precipitants can precede, and perhaps contribute to, the development of an eating disorder (Peterson et al., 2007).
The Family and Eating Disorders
Risk factors in the family are the next domain to consider. A family history of eating disorders, weight concerns, or other mental disorders, such as depression or anxiety disorders, can precipitate the onset of eating disorders. Specific relationship patterns in families have been observed as risk factors, and disturbed relationships between mothers and daughters are a risk factor for females (Peterson et al., 2007). Negative parental behaviors towards children or adolescents can also be a negative predictor of the development of an eating disorder. Some examples of these poor interactions include encouraging the adolescent to diet and teasing them about their body shape or weight. Parental pressure, including in the form of teasing, can lead to an increased risk of developing an eating disorder (Peterson et al., 2007). Such interactions can increase body dissatisfaction in both male and female adolescents. If the negative feelings related to these interactions are internalized, they can result in (Peterson et al., 2007). Risk factors related to the family domain are important etiological risk factors.
The Cumulative Effects of Risk Factors
The risk factors from each of these domains are not only important on their own, but need to be viewed cumulatively. When they occur in conjunction with one another, their effects will be greater than the effects of each individual factor (Peterson et al., 2007).
Christian Counseling for Eating Disorders
As a Christian counselor, I have a couple of reasons for sharing more about the causes of eating disorders. I do not seek to lay blame or to say that an individual who experiences any of these things is going to develop an eating disorder. Instead, I desire to shed light on the complex etiological factors that may interact and lead to the development of a disorder. My intent is to demonstrate the complexities of eating disorders and to underline my previous assertion that they are not simple. They are not simple to understand, nor are they simple to overcome. If you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, seek out help. The counselors at Seattle Christian Counseling would be glad to partner with you to begin, or continue, upon a journey to health and wholeness. Please feel free to reach out to me directly by contacting me here. In a future article, I will discuss treatment options and some beginning steps towards healing.
- Bulick, C. M., Sullivan, P. F., Tozzi, F., Furberg, H., Lichtenstein, P., & Pedersen, N. L. (2006). Prevalence, heritability, and prospective risk factors for anorexia nervosa. Archives of General Psychiatry, 63(3), 305-312. http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/archpsyc.63.3.305
- Peterson, K. A., Paulson, S. E., & Williams, K. K. (2007). Relations of eating disorder symptomology with perceptions of pressures from mother, peers, and media in adolescent girls and boys. Sex Roles, 57(9-10), 629-639. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11199-007-9296-z
- Qian, J., Hu, Q., Wan, Y., Li, T., Wu, M., Ren, Z., & Yu, D. (2013). Prevalence of eating disorders in the general population: A systematic review. Shanghai Archives of Psychiatry, 25(4), 212-223.http://dx.doi.org/10.3969/j.issn.1002-0829.2013.04.003
- Silber, T. J. (2005). Anorexia nervosa among children and adolescents. Advances in Pediatrics, 52, 49-76. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.yapd.2005.03.003
“Girl in the waiting room,”courtesy of Jan Vasek, jeshoots.com; “Lady in Dismay,” courtesy of SplitShire Free Stock Photos, splitshire.com