It can be assumed that there is not ONE cause of eating disorders. Rather, several factors usually work together. There are different theories about how an eating disorder occurs, some of which are complementary:
Eating disorder due to a disturbed self-esteem
According to this theory, the core of the eating disorder lies in the disturbed, diminished self-esteem. This leads on the one hand to dissatisfaction with oneself and one’s own body, on the other to negative feelings that are overcome by starvation or eating, and finally to social withdrawal.
All these factors have a vicious effect on the eating disorder. The occupation with food becomes more and more important compared to the occupation with other people.
Eating Disorder as a Social Phenomenon
The demands placed on an attractive exterior are extremely high by the fashion and advertising industry. Only those who are slim, it seems, can be successful, rich and attractive.
Measured by the images we encounter in advertisements and on television, the vast majority of us (including the author) will not correspond to these role models. According to this theory, anorexic and bulimic patients are still struggling to fulfill the supposed expectation of the perfect body, while obese patients have already given up.
Eating Disorder as a Socio-Cultural Phenomenon
Our society has high and sometimes very contradictory expectations of women in particular. Many women experience themselves in the dilemma of simultaneously embodying traditional qualities perceived as feminine and yet showing more traditional than masculine professional qualities – such as being soft, balancing and understanding at the same time, but also assertive and self-confident.
The feminist theory sees the development of an eating disorder as a rebellion against these contradictory expectations and, in this sense, as a constructive accusation against society.
Eating Disorder as a Result of Missing Social Rules
In the past there was a more reliable order derived from religion in the Christian world than today. This also referred to when and what food was available. The day was structured by prayers and meals. But also in the Islamic world we find such a division and structuring of life through prayer and meal.
In our “modern” world these largely universal rules are missing. According to this theory, eating disorders are to be understood as a reaction to the lack of such a stabilizing structure. For example, an eating disorder can be used to experience more reliability and structure through a fixed, rigid eating plan.
Eating Disorder as a Reaction to Abundance
Eating disorders are predominantly found in those societies or social strata for which the provision of food is not a problem. In the countries of the so-called Third World, malnutrition often occurs, but anorexia is rare; in the industrial nations, on the other hand, obesity and the resulting consequences of disease are one of the main causes of death.
Eating disorders caused by genetic factors
A large number of studies have been devoted to the heredity of eating disorders. The only thing that is largely certain is that anorexia, bulimia and obesity all have a genetic component. This means that certain people have an increased risk of developing the respective eating disorder.
This is not to be understood as an inevitable fate, but as a challenge for those affected. In order not to actually become or remain anorexic, bulimic or overweight, a more conscious eating and exercise behaviour is necessary for them than for people who do not carry any hereditary burden for an eating disorder.
Learning Theoretical Models of Eating Disorders
From the learning theory we would like to mention 2 models that can be relevant for the development of eating disorders.
On the one hand, learning on the model. Especially younger children (but not only these) can be stimulated in their behaviour by important role models to carry out the observed behaviour themselves. Of course, this also applies to eating behaviour, so that problematic eating habits can be absorbed by the child and then developed into eating disorders.
The second theory is based on reward learning, but it should be noted that eating (especially sweets) can also be considered a reward. If, for example, children are often rewarded with sweets for sitting quietly in front of the TV, it can happen that they sit in front of the TV and eat sweets becoming an almost inseparable unit, resulting in overweight.
But restrictive eating