As with other mental illnesses, the causes of anorexia nervosa are not fully understood.
There may be genetic risk factors and a combination of environmental, social and cultural factors. It's likely that some people are more vulnerable to anorexia because of particular personality traits.
The causes that may contribute to a person developing anorexia nervosa include:
Psychological factors, such as a high level of perfectionism or obsessive-compulsive personality traits, feeling limited control in life and low self-esteem, a tendency towards depression and anxiety and a poor reaction to stress.
Cultural pressures to be thin stemming from media and pop culture such as magazines, TV shows and movies.
Occupations that demand a thin physique may increase the risk of anorexia nervosa, such as certain sports, ballet, or the television and fashion industries.
Brain chemistry, in response to inadequate nutrition affecting brain function - extreme dieting can affect the balance of hormones in the body, impacting the brain.
Genetic predisposition, which arises from the genes inherited from parents - anorexia nervosa often runs in families, suggesting there may be a genetic cause.
Last reviewed: July 2017