Research is still being done on the cause of anorexia, but the most common understanding of how this disorder develops includes a combination of biological, psychological and social factors. Studies show that anorexia runs in families. People with anorexia tend to have a genetically close family member, like a parent or sibling, who also has an eating disorder.
Our Western society is a culture that has unrealistic physical standards for woman to be thin, and flawlessly beautiful. These standards cannot be met, because the images we see are not real, and yet many young girls try very hard to look like the women in magazines or in the movies.
In other situations the individuals are trying to meet the expectations of others and lose weight for a sport or activity, like ballet, gymnastics, or running. This can lead to unhealthy dieting and exercising.
There are also certain psychological characteristics that can put a person at an increased risk for developing anorexia. Common traits are: they hold in their feelings, they are perfectionist, and rigid. In times of stress, most people will turn to thoughts and behaviors that come naturally because it is comfortable and it makes them feel secure. Individuals with these characteristics may turn to routines of structure and rigidity in many areas of life, including their eating habits.
These characteristics, paired with the family history of an eating disorder and the pressure to unrealistically transform their physical appearance, can lead to the development and then the maintenance of anorexia.
Adolescents may be particularly vulnerable because the teen years are already a time of increased stress, change and pressure. Recognize however, that treatment tends not to focus on the cause of the disorder, but rather the physical condition of the patient and the unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.