As parents, it’s our job to protect our children from things that might cause them harm. When something bad happens, it’s only natural to feel partially responsible—even if there wasn’t anything you could have done to prevent it. When parents find out their child has an eating disorder, some experience intense feelings of guilt or responsibility for somehow causing the problem to develop. But, are these emotions really justified, or are we holding ourselves to an impossible standard?
We know a great deal more about eating disorder causes than we did even just a decade ago. And, what research shows us is that eating disorders are complex illnesses with a wide variety of underlying causes and contributing factors. Some might be genetic. Some are environmental. Some are psychological. The takeaway? Even if you could be a perfect parent, you still might not be able to prevent an eating disorder from developing in your child.
So, what causes an eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia or binge eating? Stay with us as we explore some of the top eating disorder causes in children.
Possible Eating Disorder Causes & Contributing Factors
Genetic Predisposition: Some research suggests that eating disorders may run in the family, like certain mental or physical illnesses. To date, a direct link between a person’s genes and the development of an eating disorder has not been identified. However, we do see an increased propensity toward eating disorders among children who suffer from depression and anxiety.
Personality Traits: Perfectionism, impulsive tendencies, obsessive thinking—personality traits like these may put some children at increased risk for eating disorders.
Physical or Emotional Trauma: Children who experience traumatic events often deal with difficult emotions like shame or guilt even though they have done nothing wrong. In some cases, the eating disorder could be a child’s attempt to regain control and cope with the emotional pain they are feeling.
Unrealistic Ideals: In a single year, a typical child could see more than 25,000 advertisements. Many of these ads feature unattainable images of perfection and an extreme overemphasis on physical appearance as a measure of personal worth.
Extreme Dieting: Children who become obsessed with dieting could also be more likely to develop an eating disorder. That’s because extreme dieting usually indicates an unhealthy fixation on weight, body shape and food. And, since restrictive diets are particularly ineffective for achieving healthy, long-term weight loss, it can lead to feelings of guilt around food and eating.
Lack of Healthy Coping Skills: Life is full of ups and downs. Some are big and some are small. Healthy coping skills allow us to process and manage the negative (and positive) aspects of daily life. Without them, some children could be more likely to use food as a coping mechanism, which sets the stage for eating disorders or addiction to drugs.
What Caused Your Child’s Eating Disorder?
We could keep listing more eating disorder causes, but our larger point is that, in all likelihood, your child’s eating disorder is probably the result of a combination of factors—not any one thing. And, least of all, probably not something you should blame yourself for. So, what should you do? A good place to start is to educate yourself about eating disorders. Or, if you’re ready to get help, contact the experts at Adolescent Growth, an eating disorder treatment center specializing in helping teens get healthy.