9 Risk Factors That Can Lead to Eating Disorders

9 Risk Factors That Can Lead to Eating Disorders


Eating disorders are some of the most severe mental health issues. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder. And unfortunately, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate among psychiatric conditions.

Although the exact cause of eating disorders is still unknown, experts believe they result from psychological, emotional, genetic, and environmental factors.

Even though eating disorders are more commonly associated with teenage girls, more men, older women, and children are being diagnosed. For instance, according to a 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, one-third of all eating disorder patients are male. 

If eating disorders are no longer specific to a certain demographic, who is at risk of developing them?

9 Risk Factors That Can Lead to Eating Disorders

Remember the following risk factors to assess whether you or a loved one may be at risk:


Many eating disorder patients report having a weak support network, fewer friends, and attending fewer social events. 

Even if the person has a strong support network, they may still feel isolated if they have trouble communicating negative emotions and seeking help.


People who are overly concerned with following rules and getting everything perfect may be at increased risk.

Specifically, those more at risk often set unrealistically high expectations for themselves. Often, perfectionists also need to be in control of themselves and their environment, which may lead to added stress and frustration.


People who’ve struggled with bullying, especially if it was related to weight or physical appearance, are also more at risk. Bullying is such an important factor that the National Eating Disorders Association states that 60% of eating disorder patients mentioned bullying as a contributing factor in developing the disorder.

Other mental health issues

An eating disorder often coexists with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or depression.

One of the brain chemicals that regulates mood and sleep is serotonin. But according to Healthline, serotonin may also influence eating behaviors.

Family history

A family member, like a parent or sibling, struggling with an eating disorder, addiction, or other mental health issue increases the risk of developing an eating disorder.

For this reason, parents are sometimes blamed when their child suffers from an eating disorder. But family can be a positive force in the patient’s life, and their support may be crucial to preventing and treating the condition.

Body image issues

When someone feels profoundly dissatisfied with their weight, body shape, and appearance, they may turn to unhealthy eating behaviors to correct this. And in many cases, they may have a distorted body image that makes them believe they are overweight, even if they’re healthy.

A distorted body image may affect men as well as women. Some men may experience muscle dysmorphia and are concerned about increasing their muscle mass.


It’s prevalent for an eating disorder to start with a diet. If the diet becomes extreme, the patient may experience starvation.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, starvation negatively affects the brain. It causes mood changes, anxiety, and a reduced appetite. The adverse effects on the brain may reinforce restrictive eating disorder behaviors.


Eating disorders typically develop during adolescence due to hormonal changes and peer pressure. For teenagers, looking attractive or thin may be an important way to feel accepted. Therefore, teenagers are especially at risk.


Stressful events, such as significant life changes or family issues, may trigger the onset of an eating disorder.

Other stressors may include peer pressure or unrealistic expectations about the person’s achievements or appearance.


Eating disorders are severe and complex mental health issues that often go unnoticed or undiagnosed for extended periods. Understanding the risk factors can help identify those at risk. By recognizing these factors early on, it is possible to get the help needed to prevent the development of an eating disorder or to seek treatment. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please seek help from a professional.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.