Causes & Mechanisms

The media may be a significant influence on eating disorders through its impact on values, norms, and image standards accepted by modern society . Both society’s exposure to media and eating disorders have grown immensely over the past decade. Researchers and clinicians are concerned about the relationship between these two phenomena and finding ways to reduce the negative influence thin-ideal media has on women’s body perception and susceptibility to eating disorders. The dieting industry makes billions of dollars each year by consumers continually buying products in an effort to be the ideal weight. Hollywood displays an unrealistic standard of beauty that makes the public feel incredibly inadequate and dissatisfied and forces people to strive for an unattainable appearance. This takes an enormous toll on one’s self-esteem and can easily lead to dieting behaviors, disordered eating, body shame, and ultimately an eating disorder.

Family Relationships:

Many studies have found that women create rules for themselves pertaining to food restriction as a coping response to reassert personal control over their bodies . Especially in conditions of criticism and coercive parental control during childhood, women use food refusal to gain autonomy and control over their environment. Many studies have showed that many women who experienced physical or sexual abuse as a child end up with eating disorders as a method of punishing oneself due to the feeling of being worthless, or to strive to be “good enough” so they can finally receive the love and acceptance they lacked during childhood. Women may have developed low self-esteem and poor body image, but they can find achievement in abiding by food rules; they gain a sense of control and independence in being disciplined and avoiding “bad” food. These distorted thoughts are correlated with perfectionism and obsessiveness, giving women a false sense of control when, in reality, the eating disorder has totally consumed them.

Biological/Genetic factors:

Research has shown that many people who suffer from an eating disorder are highly correlated with having depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. Depressed, obsessive compulsive and bulimic patients were found to have lower than normal serotonin levels . Neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, are released as you eat.

Researchers have also found low cholecystokinin levels in bulimics. Cholecystokinin is a hormone that causes one to feel full and decreases eating . People who are lacking this hormone are more likely to lack feeling satisfaction while eating which can lead to binge eating. Another explanation researchers found for over eating is abnormalities in the neuromodulator peptides, neuropeptide Y and peptide YY . Both of these peptides increase eating and work with another peptide called leptin. Leptin is released by fat cells and is known to decrease eating. Research found the majority of people who overate produced normal amounts of leptin but they might have complications with the blood-brain barrier preventing an optimal amount to reach the brain .