Risk Factors of Eating Disorders
PLUS ways to prevent EDs & strengthen your relationship with food and your body.
As a 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 who 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. A history of dieting
Restricting overall intake or types of food in an effort to control weight or to shrink the body is one of the biggest risk factors in the development of an eating disorder.
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 except that it is often used as a measuring stick for success.
3. LGBTQ2+ Community
Members of the LGBTQ2+ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 LGBTQ2+ community and screen for the presence of disordered eating allowing for earlier identification and support to be provided.
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.
Looking for an Eating Disorder Dietitian that “gets it”? We can help.
If you are seeking support for an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, ARFID or disordered eating behavior we can help.
We have Eating Disorder Dietitians on our team that 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 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.