By Tracy Narins Welchoff, Ph.D.
Undoubtedly the most commonly asked question of friends and family members, it is understandable that loved ones want to know why their loved one is suffering from this scary, confusing, complicated illness. Is it the parents’ fault? (Nope.) Is it vanity or a desperate attempt at getting attention? (nope and nope.) Is it a choice? Is it a behavior problem? (Still nope.) In fact, there is no simple answer to this important question. Eating disorders are complex and affect people of all ages, ethnicities, socioeconomic groups, genders, and education levels. They impact loving, supportive well-functioning families as well as families with significant dysfunction. Eating disorders also occur in people of all shapes and sizes. External appearance should never be used as an indication of someone’s potential to develop an eating disorder, nor is it an indicator of its seriousness.
Risk factors involve a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural issues. These factors may interact differently in different people, so two people with the same eating disorder can have very diverse perspectives, experiences, and symptoms. Although not an exclusive list, the following can be considered in trying to understand the myriad of contributory factors to the development and maintenance of an eating disorder.
Genetic factors work in combination with environmental, psychological, and other biological effects to increase risk. An individual’s genetic predisposition might influence how one responds to the environment as well as what environments an individual might seek out. Eating disorders are not a choice. They are serious psychiatric illnesses accompanied by a high medical risk. It is important to know, however, that eating disorders are treatable and do not automatically last a lifetime. Early, aggressive treatment is widely considered the best approach as this minimizes lasting physical problems as well as psychosocial and developmental disruption. Recovery is possible and always worth fighting for. Please reach out to the staff at Narins EDC if you have questions or concerns.