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The Eating Disorders Programme from the Department of Psychiatry at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth​ group, shares the common causes of eatin​g disorders.

Causes of eating disorders are complex and multi-dimensional

While eating disorders may begin with preoccupations with food and weight, they are most often about much more than food.

Eating disorders are complex conditions that start from a combination of long-standing behavioral, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and social factors. Scientists and researchers are still learning about the underlying causes of these emotionally and physically damaging conditions. However, some of the general issues that contribute to the development of eating disorders have been discovered.

Psychological triggers for eating disorders

  1. Low self-esteem
  2. Feelings of inadequacy or lack of control in life
  3. Depression, anxiety, anger or loneliness

Interpersonal factors

  1. Troubled family and personal relationships
  2. Difficulty expressing emotions and feelings
  3. History of being teased or ridiculed based on size or weight
  4. History of physical or sexual abuse

Social influences

  1. Cultural pressures that glorify thinness and place value on obtaining the perfect body
  2. Narrow definitions of beauty that include only women and men of specific body weights and shapes
  3. Cultural norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance and not inner qualities and strength

Other factors that may cause eating disorders

  • Scientists are still researching possible biochemical or biological causes of eating disorders. In some individuals with eating disorders, certain chemicals in the brain that control hunger, appetite and digestion have been found to be imbalanced.
  • Eating disorders often run in families. Current research indicates that there are significant genetic contributions to eating disorders.

People with eating disorders often use food and the control of food in an attempt to compensate for feelings and emotions that may otherwise seem overwhelming. For some, dieting, bingeing, and purging may begin as a way to cope with painful emotions and to feel in control of life. But ultimately, these behaviors will damage a person’s physical and emotional health, self-esteem, and sense of competence and control.

For more information and tips, download a FREE copy of the "Treating Eating Disorders: The SGH Experience" booklet.

Information modified from National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA).

See page 1 for the three types of eating disorders.

See the next page for health, psychological and social impacts of eating disorders.

See page 4 for treatments for eating orders and coping tips.

Ref: U11

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