Risk Factors of Eating Disorders
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PLUS ways to prevent EDs & strengthen your relationship with food and your body

risk factors of eating disorders

As registered dietitian working in the area of eating disorders (EDs) and mental health, I get asked all the time: How did this happen to my loved one? How did I not see this coming?

Unfortunately, because eating disorders are complex and multifactorial, we cannot predict who will or will not develop this challenging diagnosis.

However, there are some risk factors for eating disorders that we should be aware of as these can help prevent the development of an eating disorder or allow us to support our loved one in getting help sooner. These risk factors of eating disorders include biological, sociocultural, and psychological aspects.  

Common Risk Factors Include: 

1. Dieting or a history of dieting

Dieting is the number one risk factor for the development of an eating disorder! Restriction can show up in overall volume, types of food and time restricted eat. All forms of restriction, in an attempt to control weight or shrink the body, can accidentally become a slippery slope leading to disordered eating. Learn more about the dangers of dieting on physical and mental health.


2. A body-focused environment  

If the people surrounding you persistently talk about body size, shape, and appearance, this impacts how much value a person puts on the body. For example, the world of sports often idealizes an athletic build. However, athleticism can present in many different shapes and sizes making this term useless even though it is often used as a measuring stick for success.  


3. 2SLGBTQ+ Community  

Members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community are at a disproportionately high risk of developing an eating disorder. This may be related to internalized conflict, fear of rejection from loved ones, experiences of discrimination, or body image pressures among other potential reasons.  Learn more in this blog post.


4. Inappropriate use of social media  

Social media has become integrated within our lives, and this is not always a positive thing. Social media uses algorithms to guess what type of content you like and will continue to filter more of that content towards us. Unfortunately, this can end up bombarding us with messaging that may be very bad for our physical and mental health.   

I encourage editing your social media content to ensure you are consuming positive messaging, especially around food and bodies. 

What can we do to help prevent an eating disorder?

1. Instead of dieting, focus on foods that nourish your body and your soul. Focus on eating foods that you enjoy and that make you feel your best. Subscribe to our newsletter filled with tips and articles from our team based on our healthful + soulful balanced eating approach. 

2. Pay attention to body comments, whether about yourself or others. Try to focus on non-appearance-based feedback such as energy, strength, and confidence. Check out our blog for articles on body image, and more. 

3. Create an inclusive environment around you. This can be done by doing research to learn appropriate terminology and by demonstrating support for all persons in your life. Additionally, support services must acknowledge the additional risk within the 2SLGBTQ+ community and screen for the presence of disordered eating allowing for earlier identification and support to be provided. Learn more about weight stigma and what you can do for yourself. 

4. Do a social media cleanse. Unfollow, mute, or block any content that causes negative comparisons or triggers negatively affects your mental health. In addition to this, limit to total time you spend on social media of all types.  

There are many other risk factors for the development of an eating disorder, so if you have questions or concerns related to this topic, please do not hesitate to reach out to a local specialized health care professional, including a registered dietitian who has expertise in the area of eating disorders.

If you are a caregiver supporting your loved one with an eating disorder, learn more about our Caregivers United program and sign up for the waitlist to get more information. 

For more information on Eating Disorders, visit National Eating Disorder Risk Factors and 2SLGBTQ+ Support.

Do you or a loved one have an eating disorder or think you might? Take the first step here. Our compassionate eating disorder Dietitians can help

Our Eating Disorder Dietitians on our team can help provide you with the confidential supportive care to meet you where you are at and work with you to progress recovery at a pace you can manage. We’ll guide you to heal your relationship with food and your body.

We also work collaboratively with your physician and therapist to ensure we are helping you move forward with the right type of support needed to assist you.

Learn more about eating disorders from our Registered Dietitians:

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