What are the Most Common Eating Disorders Risk Factors?

What is an eating disorder? What are eating disorders risk factors? Learn more about this mental condition characterized by abnormal eating habits.

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What is an eating disorder, and what are the various eating disorders risk factors? An eating disorder is a mental condition characterized by abnormal eating habits. It is a disorder that harms a person’s physical and mental health. It is a condition that causes a person to obsess over their body shape, weight, and eating habits.

Eating Disorders Risk Factors

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Types of Eating Disorders

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), there are eight types of eating disorders. They include:1
  • Pica: This means eating non-nutritive or non-food substances such as soaps.   
  • Rumination Disorder: This means spitting out and chewing already-eaten food.  
  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): This means having a strict diet or consuming only certain types of food.  
  • Anorexia Nervosa: This means self-starvation due to the fear of gaining weight. 
  • Bulimia Nervosa: This means binge eating and engaging in unhealthy habits to counteract the effects of binge eating.   
  • Binge Eating Disorder (BED): This involves eating a large quantity of food in one sitting and then feeling guilty about it. 
  • Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED): This describes disorders whose symptoms do not match the specific criteria for a known disorder. 
  • Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED): This diagnosis happens when a person exhibits symptoms of an eating disorder but does not meet the criteria for any of the DSM-5 eating disorders.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders

There are different types of eating disorders, each with specific signs and symptoms. Some common signs and symptoms across various types of eating disorders include:2

  • Obsessing over body weight, shape, and size 
  • Self-starvation, restricting food intake, and extreme dieting.
  •  Binge eating or consuming large amounts of food in a short time. 
  • Vomiting, using laxatives, or excessive exercise after eating 
  • Avoiding eating in social situations or in front of others 
  • Unhappiness due to distorted body image or body weight. 
  • Anxiety related to food and eating. 
  • Drastic changes in weight or body composition over a short period 
  • Weird eating habits, such as cutting food into pieces, eating, or discarding food in secret. 
  • Physical symptoms include feeling lightheaded or weak, gastrointestinal problems, and dental problems.  

Impact on Physical and Mental Health

Eating disorders can negatively impact physical and mental health. The physical effects of eating disorders risk factors can include malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies. It also includes dental issues from excessive consumption of sugary foods and drinks.

The mental health effects of eating disorders include low self-esteem, negative body image, depression, anxiety, obsessive thoughts about food, an unhealthy obsession with perfection, and possible addiction to substance abuse.

Eating Disorders Risk Factors: What are They?

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that happen because of a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), some eating disorders risk factors increases in some persons for several reasons, including:3

Genetics and Family History

There is evidence from various types of research that a genetic component increases eating disorder risk factors. A family history of eating disorders risk factors, or other mental health conditions can increase a person’s chances of the disorder.

Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem caused by dissatisfaction with body shape and size can increase eating disorders risk factors and contribute to the disorder’s development. These emotions can lead to an unhealthy obsession with weight, body shape, and food, leading to disordered eating habits.

Trauma or Abuse History and Stressful Life Events

Trauma from physical and sexual abuse can lead to negative body image and low self-esteem, thus increasing an individual’s eating disorders risk factors. Stressful life events can also trigger psychological conditions like anxiety or depression, and individuals who suffer from anxiety or depression may resort to unhealthy eating habits to cope with anxiety.

Peer Pressure

Eating disorders risk factors such as peer pressure can contribute to having eating disorders, especially in adolescents and young adults. They may engage in unhealthy eating behaviors to fit in or be accepted by their peers.


Engaging in restrictive eating patterns, such as extreme dieting or fasting, can increase the risk of having an eating disorder. Dieting can lead to obsessive thoughts about food and lousy eating patterns.

Social and Cultural Factors

Societal pressures to conform to a particular body type or size can contribute to the disorder. Social media may also play a role in creating a desire to achieve an unrealistic body standard.

Psychological Factors

Individuals with anxiety and depression may engage in unhealthy eating behaviors to cope.

Use of Certain Drugs

Certain drugs, such as appetite suppressants and stimulants, can cause extreme weight loss and increase the likelihood of developing an eating disorder. Long-term use of these drugs can result in obsessive thoughts about food and body weight, which can lead to the development of an eating disorder.


Athletics is an eating disorders risk factor. Athletes in sports that rank weight or body size are at risk of developing eating disorders. The pressure to maintain a certain body weight or shape can cause an eating disorder.

Biological Factors

Eating disorders risk factors can be biological. Factors such as neurotransmitter imbalances, brain structure, and hormone imbalances can all contribute to the development of eating disorders.
Eating Disorders Risk Factors

How Can Mental Health Facilities Help?

Mental health facilities can help people with eating disorders risk factors by helping with the following:

  • Early detection and intervention
  • Conducting comprehensive assessments through eating disorder specialists 
  • Creating individualized treatment plans tailored to the person’s needs.  
  • Recommending cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, family-based therapy, etc. 
  • Strict monitoring of recovery process and physical health 
  • Nutritional counseling and guidance 
  • Establishing support groups to provide social connection and help build self-esteem. 
  • Providing aftercare to ensure prompt recovery.

How Can You Be an Ally to a Loved One Who Has Developed an Eating Disorder?

If someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can support them by:4
  • Respecting their privacy. 
  • Acknowledging that recovery from an eating disorder is a process. 
  • Educating yourself about eating disorders, symptoms, and warning signs  
  • Creating a safe and supportive environment 
  • Encouraging healthy eating habits and exercise 
  • Being understanding and patient during recovery 
  • Encouraging them to seek professional help
  • Acknowledging their efforts during recovery 
  • Being mindful of your eating habits and talking about body image can be triggering for someone in recovery. 
  • Helping them build up self-esteem and motivating them on their path to recovery. 
  • Reminding your loved one that they are not alone. 

Get the Support You Need to Recover from Eating Disorder at Alternative Options Counseling Center

At Alternative Options, we provide a comprehensive and structured treatment plan for our patients. We offer treatment for eating disorders risk factors in a caring and therapeutic environment. Although the road to recovery is difficult, you do not have to be alone. Get help at our facility right away.