Eating Disorders and Triggers


By: Geoffrey McMain

Edited by: Kaitlin Graham


Over the past few years, the conversation around eating disorders has reached new heights and illuminated issues that have gone unnoticed and ignored for years. These mental illnesses are extreme conditions that cause severe emotional distress and health problems.


Given this, it’s important to understand the whats, hows, and whys of eating disorders, so they can be identified and remedied with proper medical attention. Scientists believe that there are a multitude of potential factors that can trigger an eating disorder, whether it be biological or sociocultural.


One potential cause identified is genetics, with research showing that twins have similar likelihoods of developing eating disorders, and there is also evidence of certain brain structures being more or less susceptible to these disorders.


Another possible factor is culture, as nations that idolize thinness typically have much higher rates of certain syndromes compared to those that lack such beauty standards.


Even certain personality traits such as neuroticism, impulsivity, and perfectionism can be potential triggers. While no single cause for eating disorders has been found, it’s likely that a combination of these influences is what triggers the development of one.


Eating disorders can take many forms, and even within specific disorders there can be considerable differences from person to person, which means it’s especially important to understand the most common varieties of these illnesses. 


Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is characterized, like the majority of eating disorders, by abnormally low body weight and a twisted perception of body size that leads to a fierce fear of gaining any weight. People with Anorexia will typically go to extreme lengths to keep from gaining weight and might limit their food intake by forced vomiting, abusing drugs, or exercising excessively. 


Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia, similar to Anorexia, is rooted in a false idea of weight where self-value is based on body size and shape. What differentiates Bulimia from other disorders like Anorexia is a cycle of binge eating, wherein people lose control over how much they eat, and consume a large number of calories in a short period of time. Then food is purged from the system by self-induced vomiting or by abusing diuretics and enemas.


Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder is attached to a loss of control when eating, which often leads to binge eating excessive quantities of food repeatedly. Binge Eating Disorder is usually related to cases of obesity, severe weight cycling, and diabetes, as well as other medical problems.



People with Pica will compulsively eat foods without nutrition or that are dangerous, such as ice, paint, plastic, or metal. While Pica is usually a harmless and temporary disorder that can take place in children and pregnant women, Pica can also be extremely unhealthy if it lasts for an extended period of time or involves consuming dangerous substances.


Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is much like other disorders that limit both the amount and type of food eaten, but ARFID differs in that there is no underlying emotional problem involving perceptions of weight. Instead, ARFID is an extreme form of “picky eating” usually found temporarily in children, but can become a problem for adults who do not consume a healthy amount of calories.


Rumination Disorder

Rumination Disorder is an unconscious syndrome where food is typically eaten in a normal fashion and quantity but will be regurgitated undigested shortly after. While experts know that Rumination Disorder isn’t a voluntary act, they also believe that it can be a learned habit by those with it, and can cause a lack of nutrition.


If you’re looking for more information or medical help for an eating disorder, these are some qualified sources:

Mayo Clinic


Eating Recovery Center