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Causes of anorexia nervosa

2-minute read

As with other mental illnesses, the causes of anorexia nervosa are not fully understood.

Anxiety can affect your ability to concentrate.

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder which causes severe weight loss.

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.

Environmental factors, including the onset of puberty, stressful life events and relationship problems.

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.

Where to get help

If you or someone you know might have anorexia nervosa, contact the following organisations for support, information and counselling:

Last reviewed: July 2017

Need more information?

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