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, extreme dieting can affect the balance of hormones in the body, affecting how the brain functions.
Genetic predisposition, which arises from the genes inherited from parents. Anorexia nervosa often runs in families, suggesting there may be a genetic cause.
Where to get help
If you or someone you know might have anorexia nervosa, contact the following organisations for support, information and counselling:
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Last reviewed: June 2019