Anorexia Nervosa - Causes

The exact cause of anorexia nervosa is not known. However, a combination of factors are believed to contribute to the disorder.

Social Influences

American society places high value on thinness among women. Many consider being thin an essential part of beauty and young girls often think that they must be slender to be attractive. Being thin is also equated with social success. Images of girls and women in mass media (magazines, television, and movies) have been blamed, in part, for reinforcing such stereotypes. Some girls become anorexic as a form of copy-cat behavior. They imitate the actions of other women whom they admire. Extreme dieting may be one of these behaviors.

Occupational Goals

Some occupations traditionally expect women be slender. Dancers, fashion models, gymnasts, and actresses are often expected to be very thin. A young girl who aims for these careers may decide to pursue an extreme weight-loss program.

Genetic and Biological Factors

Anorexia nervosa seems to run in some families. Women whose mothers or sisters have the disorder are more likely to develop the condition than those who do not have relatives with anorexia nervosa.

Psychological Factors

One factor possibly leading to anorexia nervosa is the way a person looks at the world. Many theories have been developed to explain how an individual's view of the world may lead to the disorder. Anorexia nervosa has been interpreted as:

  • A fear of growing up. By becoming anorexic, a young girl may be able to remain a child.

  • Reaction to sexual assault or abuse.
  • A desire to remain weak and passive in the belief that men will find this attractive.
  • A drive to be perfect in every part of life, whether it be school work or weight control.
  • Response to family problems.
  • Biological or psychological problems caused by incorrect feeding experiences at an early age.

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