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What Causes Anorexia and Bulimia in Teens?

Find out what causes eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia in teens. Also included is sports and eating disorders.No one is really sure what causes eating disorders, although there are many theories as to why people develop them. Most people who develop an eating disorder are between the ages of 14 and 18 (although they can develop even earlier in some people). At this time in their lives, many teens don't feel as though they have much control over anything. The physical and emotional changes that go along with puberty can make it easy for even the most confident person to feel a bit out of control. By controlling their own bodies, people with eating disorders feel as though they can regain some control - even if it is done in an unhealthy way.

For girls, even though it's completely normal (and necessary) to gain some additional body fat during puberty, some respond to this change by becoming very fearful of their new weight and feel compelled to get rid of it any way they can. It's easy to see why people may develop a fear of any weight gain, even if it's healthy and temporary: We're overloaded by images of thin celebrities - people who often weigh far less than their healthy weight. When you combine the pressure to be like these role models with a changing body, it's not hard to see why some teens develop a distorted body image.

Some individuals who develop eating disorders can also be depressed or anxious. Experts also think that some people with eating disorders may have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Their anorexia or bulimia gives them a way to handle the stresses and anxieties of being a teen and allows them to have control and impose order in their lives.

There is also evidence that eating disorders may run in families. Our parents influence our values and priorities, of course, including those toward food - which may be one reason eating disorders seem to run in families. But there also is a suggestion that there may be a genetic component to certain behaviors, and eating disorders could be one such behavior.

Sports and Eating Disorders

Some girls might be more apt to develop an eating disorder depending on the sport they choose. Gymnasts, ice-skaters, and ballerinas often operate in a culture where weight loss is important, and even runners might be encouraged to go on a diet. But in an effort to make their bodies perfect and please those around them, these athletes can end up with eating disorders.

Though it's unusual for guys to have anorexia or bulimia, it can occur, especially with the demands of certain sports. A sport like wrestling, for example, has specific weight categories that can lead some guys to develop an eating disorder. In some cases, eating disorders in male athletes are even unintentionally encouraged; they are taught that winning is the most important thing.

But the truth is that an eating disorder does much more harm than good. Athletes with eating disorders, whether girls or boys, may find that because of a lack of energy and nutrients, their athletic performance deteriorates and they become injured more often.

next: What Foods Do Children Need and What Foods Should Be Avoided?
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APA Reference
Gluck, S. (2009, January 11). What Causes Anorexia and Bulimia in Teens?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 16 from https://www.healthyplace.com/eating-disorders/articles/what-causes-anorexia-and-bulimia-in-teens

Last Updated: January 14, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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