Anorexia is commonly associated with young women, and while the majority of sufferers are teenage girls and women in their 20s, increasing numbers of men are suffering from the condition.

Increasing numbers of older people are also developing an eating disorder, with cases of people in middle age developing anorexia and other conditions.

When a loved one is diagnosed with one of these conditions, you may feel like blaming yourself and be wondering ‘what causes anorexia nervosa?’, so here are a few details of the causes of this complex issue.


Family Connection

Anorexia and other conditions can often run in families. If you have a parent or sibling with an eating disorder, then you’re at a higher risk of developing one yourself.

Studies of twins with eating disorder showed that genetics play a big part in anorexia, and although there’s not a certain gene that causes the condition, a combination of certain genes could make it more likely you’ll develop the disorder.

Those who’ve suffered from eating disorders in the past should look out for signs and symptoms of anorexia in their own children, as early intervention can help avoid damage to their health.

These warning signs could include:

  • Avoiding eating with family
  • Being self-critical about their appearance
  • Becoming underweight
  • Seeming anxious or depressed
  • Restricting the amount or type of food that they’ll eat



Personality traits that are often observed in people with anorexia is that they’re overachievers and perfectionists. They’re often people who are good students at school, high-achieving professionals and those who are involved in community activities, and this perfectionism extends to the need to control their body shape or weight.

Perfectionists will often set difficult goals for themselves, and any perceived failure will affect their mental health, meaning the sufferer will become depressed and anxious.


Trauma and Grief

There are many environmental factors that can trigger an eating disorder and dealing with the complex emotions around grief or trauma could lead a person into developing anorexia.

People with anorexia nervosa often suffer with obsessive compulsive disorder and other mental health conditions, and they can often worsen when the sufferer goes through a difficult time or loses someone they love. Some examples of trauma could include physical or sexual abuse, a serious accident, health problems or other sudden events.


Pop Culture or Social Media

The recent increase in eating disorders has been blamed by many on the use of social media. Those who post on social media often use heavily photoshopped images and show an idealised version of their life, which can be very attractive to young people.

Many celebrities also post constantly about losing weight, advertising diet products and talking in highly positive terms about their weight loss, as well as being criticised for any weight gain in the media. This sends a powerful message that weight is tied to happiness and success, which can trigger people into developing anorexia.

Social media has also been blamed for a rise in the cases of orthorexia, an eating disorder where the sufferer undergoes extreme restrictive eating. For most sufferers this involves cutting all carbs, sugar, and fat, developing eating habits that may seem healthy, but can actually put a strain on the body and lead to the sufferer becoming underweight and lethargic.

The rise in popularity of fitness models and health gurus on social media sites can lead to a fixation on eating in a certain way, making people feel like a failure if they don’t adhere to certain diets. But in the long term, this kind of eating can be harmful. For example, those who don’t get enough calcium are at risk of osteoporosis in later life.



While there’s no one cause for anorexia, someone who is more susceptible to the condition may be triggered by criticism of their looks. This can often happen in abusive relationships or bullying, where people are criticised for their weight, body shape or food choices, and can lead to an extreme fear of gaining weight.

It can be difficult to break this negative thought pattern and is something that’s often explored in therapy.


Getting Help

You may be searching for ‘what causes anorexia nervosa’ because you’re worried about yourself or a loved one and looking for help. Anorexia is a complex condition, and there are often many psychological factors to overcome. That’s why in client treatment with intensive therapy, CBT and holistic therapies is often the best option for overcoming an eating disorder.

Asana Lodge offer a comfortable, pleasant environment in which to recover, with highly qualified and experienced experts on hand to help the client not only get back to a healthy weight, but to understand the causes of their anorexia and how they can stay well in the long term.

If you or a loved one need help with eating disorders, mental health issues or addiction, simply contact the team at Asana Lodge by calling 01908 489 421 or e-mailing




Raffa Bari - Author - Last Updated: 23 May 2019

Raffa Bari (Bsc, CertEd, CELTA, NLP Prac, BAAT) has an extensive background in addiction recovery, specialising in areas such as Integrative Art Psychotherapy (BAAT Registered) for addiction treatment.

Using her incredible dedication and passion towards personal transformation and recovery, Raffa has helped truly transform the lives of so many individuals.

It is this extensive knowledge and hands-on experience in everything to do with addiction recovery that makes her the perfect author for our site.

Raffa will be posting regularly with new updates and information on the latest industry topics to do with addiction and mental health.

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