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What are the Causes of Anorexia in Women?

Anna T.
Updated May 17, 2024
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The causes of anorexia in women may be related to many different things, many of which are psychological. Some women might be in a profession in which being thin is a necessity, such as acting, modeling, or ballet. There are also women who have a problem with perfectionism and willingly starve themselves in an attempt to become thin, but no matter how thin they become, they feel it's not enough. Other women may become anorexic in order to look like the slender actresses and models they see in the media and feel they are unattractive otherwise. In some cases, anorexia in women might be the result of genetics, as research has shown that women who have an anorexic or formerly anorexic family member are much more likely to become anorexic themselves.

One of the likely causes of anorexia in women is the heightened social pressure to look good. It is often difficult for women who are above a certain size to get a job modeling or starring in movies or television shows, and as a result, the unusually thin women often set the bar. Sociocultural factors can start affecting girls in their teens, and historically have been more of an issue in Western cultures; with the spread of Western norms, the condition is becoming more prevalent in Eastern countries.

Genetics can play a role in the causes of anorexia as well. Scientists have identified a link between anorexia nervosa and chromosome 1 genes. The studies indicate that the social factors involved in anorexia may be instigators to a genetic tendency toward the condition.

The symptoms of anorexia in women and men are usually the same and may be both psychological and physical. A person who is anorexic might begin to severely restrict her eating habits along with exercising excessively. An unhealthy amount of weight may be lost in a short time frame. Irregular heart beat, dehydration, and abnormal blood cell counts are common in anorexic people. Anorexia in women may cause the menstrual period to become either completely absent or very irregular.

Treating anorexia in women and men typically involves taking care of both the body and the mind. It is usually very important that an anorexic person gets her weight back to a level that is considered normal for her height, along with adopting healthier eating and exercise habits. A hospital stay might be required for people who are severely anorexic and have starved themselves down to critically low weights. In addition to reaching a healthy weight, an anorexic person may also need to begin seeing a therapist for help with problems relating to self-acceptance.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Anna T.
By Anna T.
Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to WiseGeek. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.

Discussion Comments

By Ana1234 — On Mar 25, 2014

@umbra21 - I suspect that it's just because it's so visible and so easy to condemn or praise people for their weight. So people who develop an eating disorder will often end up getting all kinds of reinforcement from the wider world.

I remember one of my friends caught a serious disease once that caused her to lose weight and she told me that people who didn't know about the disease were constantly complimenting her on her appearance. Which is rather disturbing, really.

By umbra21 — On Mar 24, 2014

@Fa5t3r - It's taken me a long time to fully realize how much of my self image was based around what others thought of me and how ridiculous that is. I don't think anyone can help it when they are young, because we are such social animals.

So I don't blame your father for trying to protect you from that. Unfortunately, I don't know if it would do much good for the majority of girls. It seems like at least two thirds of my female friends have suffered from an eating disorder of some kind and those are just the ones who speak openly about it. So much of our culture surrounds this and I don't understand why it should. It seems like such a trivial thing compared to other qualities.

By Fa5t3r — On Mar 23, 2014

My father never let me do gymnastics when I was little because he was worried about anorexia. I really loved the idea of being able to do tricks, but I can also understand where he was coming from. The reason gymnasts in the Olympics are so often tiny and look very young is because they eat and exercise to the point where they often don't hit puberty until they are in their late teens. And there are plenty of gymnastics coaches out there who will encourage this kind of behavior in any students they feel have promise.

On the other hand, I wish there was a way for parents to be able to just let their little girls do the activities they want, without having to worry about body image problems. If I loved moving and stretching my body in gymnastics, that didn't mean I had to be a competitor, or have a particular body shape.

Anna T.

Anna T.

Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to WiseGeek. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.
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