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Causes of Eating Disorders

We do not yet know, for sure, what causes eating disorders. 


Here are some things we do know:

  • Eating disorders are not a "disease of choice" - although it may feel that way to the patient
  • Eating disorders are inherited illness: 50-80% of the risk is genetic*
  • The head of the US NIMH refers to anorexia nervosa as a brain disorder.
  • Studies show that people undergoing malnutrition display similar behaviors and thoughts to eating disorder patients
  • Patients often do not feel ill, or have awareness of how sick they are
  • Brain chemistry, function, and structure are altered in eating disorder patients
  • Paradoxically, eating disorder patients experience a relief from anxiety when restricting, bingeing, and purging
  • Certain inborn personality traits seem to pre-dispose patients to eating disorders (perfectionism, difficulty 'set-shifting'
  • Eating disorders often occur in people with other mental conditions such as anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive symptoms (OCD)
  • Research is ongoing into whether anorexia could in some cases be a form of undiagnosed autism
  • Full nutrition repairs brain functioning, reducing mental symptoms that drive the disordered thinking and behaviors.
  • Parents do not cause eating disorders.

Resource Links


*Data on heritability of anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa.


Eating Disorders 101, from the UCSD ED Program


"Living on Air" BBC Program on the biology of anorexia

Family-Based Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa in Young Adults, by Maudsley Parents, January 2010

"My Kid is Back" an interview on Life Matters radio show, March 19, 2009

"Family-Based Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa" by Maudsley Parents

"Family-Based Treatment for Bulimia Nervosa" by Maudsley Parent

C & M ED Productions - Animated, educational dialogues created by two F.E.A.S.T. Parents

"The Worst Attendants" - The history of parents and eating disorders and the principles of the Family-Based Maudsley Treatment. A PowerPoint slideshow with audio narration presented at the Renfrew Foundation Conference, November 2010

"Do Carers Care About Research?" (PDF OF SLIDES)
Powerpoint presentation by Laura Collins presented at 2010 Academy for Eating Disorders conference in Salzburg, Austria.

"Do Parents Cause Eating Disorders?"
Interviews of experts by Laura Collins, F.E.A.S.T. Founder




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F.E.A.S.T. (FAMILIES EMPOWERED AND SUPPORTING TREATMENT OF EATING DISORDERS) | US +1 855-50-FEAST | Canada +1 647-247-1339 | Australia +61 731886675 | UK +44 3308280031

F.E.A.S.T. is registered as a nonprofit organization under section 501(c)(3) of the United States Internal Revenue Code. Information on this site is meant to support, not replace, professional consultation. Unless otherwise noted, content is edited by F.E.A.S.T. volunteers with assistance from our Professional Advisory Panel.

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