You can be genetically predisposed to an eating disorder
Considering eating disorders are incredibly common, you might be curious to know what causes these unhealthy relationships with food and mirrors in the first place. The long and the short answer is both your genetics and societal influences. “We say that genetics load the gun and environment pulls the trigger,” explains Bonnie Brennan, the senior clinical director of Adult Services at Eating Recovery Center in Denver, Colorado. “Genetic predisposition, though not necessary, can play a big part in the risk.” A study in 2011 confirms that for white females, developing an eating disorder has a high degree of heritability. “More research is needed to determine the prevalence of eating disorders among those of different races and ethnicities, but we do see symptoms of eating disorders across all populations,” Brennan adds.
A big life change can evoke an eating disorder
You might not realize you have a predisposition to anorexia or binge eating (especially if your parents never discussed their struggles with you) until something life-altering or impactful happens to you (aka a trigger). “Those at higher risk may also be struggling with other mental health and substance use problems, stressors, or exposure to activities that emphasize size and weight. We also see eating disorders develop in response to life stage changes such as puberty, going to college, mid-life challenges, and loss of relationships,” Brennan notes. Here are the things substance abuse counselors desperately want you to know.
It’s not just anorexia that’s deadly
Though anorexia is most commonly reported on in the media, there are several types of body dysmorphia (unhealthy relationships with body image) that can impact your health and spirit. Anorexia is classically defined as someone who severely restricts their caloric intake—either by not eating or exercising heavily to burn off what is perceived as fat. Bulimia is when a person goes through a rollercoaster of binge eating, followed by purging—making themselves throw up or have diarrhea. Exercise-orexia is what it sounds like: being overly obsessed with getting fit and creating an ideal physique. Orthorexia is a condition of being hyper-focused on eating only the healthiest, cleanest foods. Another less well-known disorder is binge eating, in which you scarf down more than what’s comfortable, with no control over your actions. (Here’s what’s happening in your body when you binge.) All of these conditions can be life threatening and dangerous, and they all have similar warning signs.