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Learn more about the results we get at Within

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Identifying anorexia risk factors

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN) are complex psychiatric conditions that can have a serious impact on physical, mental, and emotional health. As such, these conditions are often caused by overlapping biological and environmental factors.

Identifying anorexia risk factors can help you understand when you or a loved one may have a heightened chance of experiencing AN or struggling with disordered eating behaviors.

Last updated on 
December 18, 2023
December 18, 2023
Anorexia risk factors
In this article

Biological risk factors of anorexia

Eating disorders like AN, binge eating disorder (BED), and bulimia nervosa (BN) were once thought to be primarily sociocultural conditions caused primarily or only by the influences in someone's environment. However, science is increasingly uncovering the many ways genetics and biology can influence developing eating disorders.1

Genetic anorexia nervosa risk factors
Age-related risk factors of anorexia

Psychological anorexia nervosa risk factors

Though eating disorders often have a very physical impact, the conditions are technically classified as mental health disorders—and for good reason. At the core of nearly all eating disorders are underlying mental health concerns.

Personality traits as anorexia risk factors
Anorexia and common co-occurring conditions

Environmental anorexia risk factors

AN was initially thought of as a cultural condition, and many of the same factors that were first connected to the disorder are still thought of as anorexia nervosa risk factors.

Bullying and trauma
Media and cultural expectations
Careers and recreational pursuits

Finding help for anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a serious mental health condition that can be dangerous or even deadly if left untreated. If you recognize these anorexia nervosa risk factors or signs and symptoms of anorexia in yourself or a loved one, it's essential to seek out help.

Your primary care physician, therapist, or another trusted medical professional is a great place to start. These experts can help you secure an official eating disorder diagnosis, which is often needed to pursue further treatment, or otherwise help guide you in the next best steps.

Remote treatment at Within

We understand that eating disorders don't discriminate by age, race, gender, or anything else and that each case is as different as the person experiencing it. Our team of multidisciplinary experts helps craft unique treatment plans for each patient, and our program can be followed entirely online.

Regardless of where you look for help, the most important thing is pursuing it. It's often the first step on the road to recovery.

Call us to learn more

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.

Resources

  1. Berrettini, W. (2004). The genetics of eating disorders. Psychiatry, 1(3), 18–25.
  2. Rohde, P., Stice, E., Shaw, H., Gau, J. M., & Ohls, O. C. (2017). Age effects in eating disorder baseline risk factors and prevention intervention effects. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 50(11), 1273–1280.
  3. Klump, K. L. (2013). Puberty as a critical risk period for eating disorders: a review of human and animal studies. Hormones and Behavior, 64(2), 399–410.
  4. Bulik, C., Sullivan, P., Tozzi, F. (2006). Prevalence, Heritability, and Prospective Risk Factors for Anorexia Nervosa. Archives of General Psychiatry, 63(3), 305-312. 
  5. Devoe, D., Dimitropoulos, G., Anderson, A. et. al. (2021). The prevalence of substance use disorders and substance use in anorexia nervosa: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Eating Disorders, 9, 161.
  6. Boltri, M., Sapuppo, W. (2021). Anorexia Nervosa and Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review. Psychiatry Research, 306, 114271.
  7. Silverstone, P. H. (1992). Is chronic low self-esteem the cause of eating disorders? Medical Hypotheses, 32(4), 311-315. 
  8. Longo, P., Bertorello, A., Panero, M., et. al. (2019). Traumatic events and post-traumatic symptoms in anorexia nervosa. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 10(1).
  9. Copeland, W. E., Bulik, C. M., Zucker, N., Wolke, D., Lereya, S. T., & Costello, E. J. (2015). Does childhood bullying predict eating disorder symptoms? A prospective, longitudinal analysis. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 48(8), 1141–1149.
  10. Spettigue, W., & Henderson, K. A. (2004). Eating disorders and the role of the media. The Canadian Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Review, 13(1), 16–19.
  11. Arcelus, J., Witcomb, G. L., & Mitchell, A. (2014). Prevalence of eating disorders amongst dancers: a systemic review and meta-analysis. European Eating Disorders Review, 22(2), 92–101.
  12. Stoutjesdyk, D., Jevne, R. (1993). Eating disorders among high performance athletes. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 22, 271-282.

Szabo, M., Cunningham, M.L., Seto, M., Maxwell, I. (2019). Eating Disorder Symptoms in Australian Actors and Performing Artists. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 34(4), 171-178.

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