Peer pressure, concern for slenderness and beauty, gaining autonomy, identity conflicts, and the slippery slope of weight loss are plausible social factors that many experts believe contribute to anorexia nervosa. The exact cause of anorexia is not known. As with many diseases, this is likely to be a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors. The exact causes of anorexia nervosa are unknown.
However, the disease is sometimes inherited; young women with a father or brother with an eating disorder are more likely to develop one on their own. A person with anorexia is more likely to come from a family with a history of certain health problems. These include weight problems, physical illnesses, and mental health problems. Mental health problems can include depression and substance abuse.
As with other eating disorders, anorexia has no single cause. However, research suggests that eating disorders are due to a variety of genetic, psychological and sociocultural factors. The causes of anorexia nervosa are not fully understood. Scientists cannot say with certainty what exactly causes an eating disorder or predict who will develop an eating disorder.
In general, most experts agree that eating disorders are complicated diseases that do not stem from a single cause, but from a complex interaction of biological, psychological and environmental factors. There are many different pathways for the development of an eating disorder, from binge eating disorder to anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Much of the previous research on eating disorders examined environmental risk factors. As a result, they are often blamed for causing eating disorders.
Environmental factors include events and influences on a person's life, such as diet culture, media, trauma, and weighty teasing. Influences such as gender, ethnicity or certain sports environments can strengthen or diminish other environmental factors. Society and culture do influence eating behavior, as well as our concept of ideal body shape. However, these environmental factors cannot fully explain the presence of eating disorders.
If they did, 100% of people exposed to environmental factors would develop an eating disorder, which we know is not the case. Some environmental factors may help protect people from developing eating disorders. These could include family meals, breakfast, emotional regulation skills, and mindfulness techniques. The emerging field of epigenetics, the study of whether genes are expressed, how and when they are expressed, offers a deeper insight.
Epigenetics explains that certain environmental factors determine the expression of genes or even turn certain genes on or off in the next generation. Therefore, parental stress not only alters their behavior, but can also turn genes on and off in children who were not even exposed to that stress factor.