Eating Disorders are known as illnesses that include a distorted body image, irregular eating habits and concern about weight or shape. Eating Disorders can be caused by either inadequate or excessive food intake, which can be damaging to an individual’s health. There are three distinct forms of eating disorders, including Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. These forms of disorders can develop during any stage of life. During this research paper, we will consider biological and environmental (nature/nurture) factors that contribute to the development of eating disorders. The Nature versus Nurture debate in human development is one that we must consider when it comes to eating disorders. This essay aims to evaluate the cause of eating disorders through nature and nurture.
Eating disorders are amongst the most complicated illnesses since there are many variable causes and factors. As individuals live their lives, genes change affecting their bodies, personalities, and lifestyle. Alongside all the biological changes, their environment and experiences are also changing. This affects how an individual responds to trauma, stress, their emotions and feelings. All these factors can alter an individual’s eating habits, but can cause a biological change in their body and the way their genes are expressed. To better understand the cause of eating disorder, we need to explore two complex terms nature and nurture. Nature/ Nurture are the most important factors in considering eating disorder causes.
To consider nature as a possible cause of the illnesses of eating disorders, we must understand what nature is and how it affects ED. Nature refers to genetic and hereditary factors in humans. Researchers have found that some genes can contribute to an eating disorder which is associated with a specific personality trait (Hubbard, 2009). It was found that a family of twins have shown convincing evidence that proves that genetic factors participate in the onset of having an eating disorder. “We already know that eating disorders are familial, so special vigilance to offspring of individuals who have had eating disorders may be a logical targeted approach to prevention” stated by Jessica Parker, who also discovered that Eating Disorders can be inherited.
A research was conducted by Cynthia Bulik titled “Large- scale genomic studies of anorexia and bulimia are discovering information about the conditions’ development and persistence” that examined the heritability of eating disorders in twins. Bulik was able to examine twins with Anorexia Nervosa (AN) and Bulimia Nervosa (BN). She found that Anorexia Nervosa was 50 to 60 percent heritable, which is characterized by the restriction of food intake and fear of gaining weight (LEWIS, 2019). In 2017, a genome-wide association study (GWAS) was conducted by many researchers from UNC and other members such as the Psychiatric Genetics Consortium Eating Disorder Working Group (PGC-ED), who discovered a connection between the Eating Disorder- AN and an overlap of six genes on chromosome twelve (LEWIS, 2019). Bulik was able to conclude from her research and discovery that genetics can be a factor in an individual having an eating disorder.
Another researcher, named Libby Lyons was able to conduct other research with families and twins. Her research aligned with Bulik, she discovered that families with eating disorders had been found to have a higher chance of getting the trait and developing an eating disorder (Lyons, 2017). When studying twins, she discovered that identical twins had a two times greater chance of getting an eating disorder versus fraternal twins. Therefore, twins have a higher risk of genetic inheriting an eating disorder if a family member does have an eating disorder. The information shown from the study that validates our hypothesis is fraternal twins have a minor chance of hereditary genes. But research was not able to prove that genetics can be the only causing factor for individuals to develop an eating disorder.
Researchers discovered that genetic factors cannot cause an eating disorder alone, but can contribute to the development of the disorder. Researchers found that families and twins with Anorexia Nervosa proband are at a high risk of having an eating disorder, especially women who have relatives who are patients. Also, it was discovered that if the individual has a relative with any eating disorder whether its AN, BN or Binge, they are most likely going to develop the disorder if their environment triggers the condition. Certain genes that were discovered to cause eating disorders are associated with specific personality traits. Those specific genes that are associated with a personality trait were found to be highly heritable but environmental factors were the link to the development of eating disorders, according to an article called Genetic Factors Behind Eating disorders (Lyons, 2017).
In addition, when individuals with eating disorders were evaluated, certain chemicals were seen to cause some chemical imbalance as stated by researcher Libby Lyons “In some individuals with eating disorders, certain chemicals in the brain that control hunger, appetite, and digestion are unbalanced.” “Still, researchers feel that there are environmental factors in the role of the development of an eating disorder, up to 50-70% is genetic, while 30-50% is environmental.” Therefore, the genetic factor theory is complex but does impact the development and onset of eating disorders. Environmental (nature) factors are the counterarguments for the cause of eating disorders in individuals. There are three main environmental factors that can cause an eating disorder to develop: negative experience, social Ideals, and dieting.
First, the inability to cope with a negative experience can be a major cause of developmental an eating disorder (Harney, 2014). A person who has experienced trauma usually struggles with self-esteem issues such as guilt, depression and unsatisfactory body image (Mathes, Wendy). Individuals might not have the ability to cope with negative experiences; therefore, they gain negative behavior such as excessive purging, binge eating, and restricting calorie intake. These behaviors are used as a response to emotional stress, pain, conflict, low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. The article titled Negative Affective Experiences in Relation to Stages of Eating Disorder Recovery discovered that “…binge eating provides temporary relief from negative emotional distress that accompanies ego threats.” When individuals do not relieve their stress properly (in a positive manner), the individual may use eating disorder behaviors to relieve their stress quickly, which can lead to physical and mental health issues (Harney, 2014).
Secondly, social ideals are considered one of the top causes of an eating disorder. Over the past twenty years, multiple articles discovered a connection between the thin female body image and muscular male body image depicted by the media as the ideal body which has caused dissatisfaction and eating disorders Morris, Anne M, and Debra K Katzman, 2003). The media continuously portrays the thin-skinny modules as the ideal body image or extremely muscular for men; the media advocates for an unrealistic body image which causes women, men and teenagers (mostly women) to acquire a serious eating disorder to reach an unrealistic body image (Morris, Anne M, and Debra K Katzman, 2003). When the media enhances models’ body image through different means, individuals become susceptible to believing that the body image portrayed is normal, and their body is abnormal or defective. This has been one of the main causes of the development of eating disorders.
The third leading cause of an eating disorder is dieting, especially in teenagers. The National Eating Disorders Association reported that thirty-five percent of normal or regular dieters, become pathological dieters, and that progresses to twenty to twenty-five percent develop an eating disorder (Ekern, 2012). Dieting has become one of the leading causes of eating disorders. Statistics show that more than sixty billion dollars are spent on dietary supplements in the United States alone. Dieting has become the norm in our everyday culture. It has become so common that nine to twelve-year-old children are dieting at frightening rates (Ekern, 2012). The idea of dieting and being thin has become a new trend.
In conclusion, nature (biological factors) do exist and can be a cause of eating disorder emerging in an individual but after many research conducted, genetics cannot act alone. If they live in a healthy environment then biological trigger will not be initiated to develop the behavior. Eating disorders are more likely to be triggered if an individual is exposed to an unhealthy environment versus having biological factors according to Environmental and genetic risk factors for eating disorders: What the clinician needs to know. After researching this topic, I do not believe that there is one single variable that can cause an eating disorder to develop. It is important to understand when it comes to treating an eating disorder; one must treat both biological and environmental factors that may have contributed to the disorder.