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The Family Factor

What are some of the other causes of eating disorders? There are many potential causes of eating disorders with not one single issue that can be pinpointed as a sure-fire cause. Rather it is the combination of certain risk factors and how the affected person internalizes and/or perceives them, that creates the risk for them. There are those who may have experienced several or more potential risk factors and will not be develop an eating disorder, whereas for others, enduring one or two of the risk factors, may impact them far more seriously.

That said, there are several categories of proven factors regarding disordered eating and eating disorder onset. Last week we mentioned genetic factors. The next category of risk factors are familial ones. Parents are critical components in the development of both the biological and social environments of their children. These created environments influence how children learn to develop their own body attitudes, as well as their eating and weight management patterns. Perceptions by children around the expectations of their parents can lead to increased risk and while these perceptions may not seem legitimate or demonstrable, if a child perceive her parents’ expectations as unattainable or unreasonable, increased risk follows. This scenario can, in turn, lead to identity crises or deficits that leave the child feeling out of control and/or unable to fully satisfy their parent’s expectations, thus increasing risk.

The familial relationship between a mother and her daughter plays an especially significant role in body image development for girls. If a mother has her own body image or food related issues, there is a tendency for her to inadvertently pass these issues on to her daughter. In fact, in a 2014 study by Neumark-Sztainer et al., any mother dieting whatsoever was found to be significant when it comes to the use of unhealthy and extreme weight control behaviors among adolescent girls. Further, if a mother perceives her daughter’s shape as outside what is socially ideal or what is considered healthy, often times, she tries to influence her daughter to make changes she deems acceptable. Unfortunately, this frequently involves unconsciously changing and/or shaping a child’s self-perception of acceptable weight and shape, potentially leading to increased risk. Clearly, the development of healthy family relationships around food is critical for all children.

In the next post, we will discuss religious factors and how they affect this risk.

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