Behavioral, psychological and social factors:   Reasons for developing disordered eating include a complex mixture of biological, environmental, behavioral, psychological and social factors.  Family, peers, and significant others can all have an impact on the development of eating disorders. Parents’ verbal messages have been shown to have more of an effect on their children’s body concerns and eating habits than modeling behaviors. (Rodgers, 2009) In addition, disordered eating behaviors, common in young adulthood, have been linked to hurtful comments from family related to their weight or that of a significant other. (Eisenberg, 2012)

Interactions with friends can also contribute to disordered eating including binging and compulsive overeating. Dieting college roommates’ have been found to predict disordered eating habits and a desire to be extremely thin. (Forney, 2013) In addition, the encouragement to diet (restrict) by a significant other has been associated with disordered eating. (Eisenberg, 2013)

Mass media can also play a role in the promotion of disordered eating. In one study of female adolescents, the frequency of healthy, unhealthy, and extreme weight-control behaviors was found to increase with increased frequency of exposure to dieting and weight loss magazine articles. Interestingly, women using Facebook were shown to have had an increased frequency of disordered eating. (van den Berg, 2007)

The prevalence of disordered eating also suggests a society-wide issue in the promotion and cultivating healthy body image and self-esteem. Research shows people of all genders have normalized body dissatisfaction, and the way we talk about our bodies tends to reinforce this distress. (Tantleff-Dunn, 2011)

Risk Factors for DISORDERED EATING:  The risks associated with disordered eating can be serious. Those with disordered eating can experience risks similar to those of the common eating disorders such as:

  • Inflammation and rupture of the esophagus and stomach from frequent vomiting
  • Chronic constipation or diarrhea
  • Kidney failure
  • Osteoporosis – a condition that leads to bones becoming fragile and easily fractured
  • Irregular or slow heart beat which can lead to an increased risk of heart failure
  • Loss of or disturbance of menstrual periods in girls and women
  • Increased risk of infertility in men and women
  • Disruptions in neurotransmitter (chemicals that transmit signals from one nerve to another) behavior
  • An increased risk for adolescents to develop neurological symptoms in early adulthood
  • Parts of the brain undergo structural changes and abnormal activity during restrictive (anorexic-like) states
  • Reduced heart rate, which could deprive the brain of oxygen


Types of Treatment for Eating Disorders, Binging and Disordered Eating

It is important to emphasize that all eating disorders are serious, potentially deadly and can have long-term complications in all areas of a person’s life, when untreated.  One of the biggest challenges in eating disorder recovery is that oftentimes people associate only those that are extremely thin or extremely overweight as suffers of an eating disorder.

Treatments similar to those used for Bulimia and Anorexia are typically used and include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), individual counseling, and group therapy. A relatively new cognitive behavioral treatment called enhanced CBT (CBT-E) has been developed to target disordered eating in particular (Fairburn, 2003). This method focuses not only on what is thought to be the central cognitive disturbance in eating disorders (i.e. over-evaluation of eating, shape, and weight), but also on modifying the mechanisms that sustain eating disorder psychopathology, such as perfectionism, core low self-esteem, mood intolerance, and interpersonal difficulties. These treatments focus on helping to challenge distorted thinking patterns and change unhealthy behaviors through behavioral and nutritional counseling. Therapy sessions may focus on discussing eating habits, relationships with others (such as interactions via social media), perfectionism, low self-esteem and developing healthy coping skills.

With the right team and a high level of personal commitment, recovery from disordered eating habits and regained physical health is possible.


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Is Dieting Advice from Magazines Helpful or Harmful? Five-Year Associations with Weight-Control Behaviors and Psychological Outcomes in Adolescents. van den Berg, P., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Hannan, P.J., et al. Pediatrics, 2007; 119(1): e30-37.

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