Eating Disorders and Family Factors
Eating disorders can not be said to be caused by family factors, but such factors certainly seem to help develop, as well as hinder recovery from, an eating disorder. Links have been found between genetics and eating disorders, and the home environment can also either guard against eating disorders or actually serve to help develop them. Childhood abuse, often within the family, has been linked to later eating disorders as well. Though none of these factors will absolutely result in an eating disorder, they do seem to contribute when an individual is susceptible to eating disorders. Further research is still being carried out on almost all of these factors to explore and understand the connections.
Family GeneticsRecently, much medical research has been conducted to determine if genetic factors influence the development of eating disorders. Though scientists are not prepared to state that there are definite genetic predispositions for eating disorders, they have found connections between genetics and either too much or not enough serotonin receptors in the brain. These receptors are a part of the pathway which helps signal hunger and fullness to the body. This is not to say that everyone who has abnormal levels of serotonin receptors will develop an eating disorder, but simply that there is a need for further exploration between genetics and eating disorders.
Family EnvironmentSocial factors also seem to influence the development and recovery of eating disorders, and none more so than those found in the family environment which are some of the most constant, consistent and intense factors in an individual’s life.
Family members who repeatedly diet, focus on weight as an indicator of success and are hypercritical of image and appearance can all influence the development of an eating disorder in an individual. These same factors can inhibit the recovery from an eating disorder by reinforcing the skewed thoughts and behaviours that the individual has adopted. Similarly, poor communication between family members, little value placed on family life and few opportunities for family bonding may also contribute to the development of, and inhibit the recovery from, an eating disorder as an individual receives little support or reinforcement that (s)he is indeed loved and valued just as (s)he is.
Abuse within the FamilyA final family factor that appears to contribute to the development of, and recovery from, eating disorders is a history of childhood abuse in the individual suffering from an eating disorder. Both physical and emotional abuse lead children to feel out of control, powerless, alone and afraid. These are all common thoughts and feelings also found in individuals who develop eating disorders. Though not all individuals who survive childhood abuse develop an eating disorder, further research on the relationship between childhood abuse and eating disorders may further explain the links.
Family factors seem to influence the development of, and recovery from, eating disorders. Genetics, the family environment and childhood abuse are all factors that have been linked to eating disorders, though none are absolutely identifiable as a cause of individual eating disorders.
Further information on family factors and eating disorders can be obtained from a GP, private mental health professional or from the Eating Disorders Association and/or National Centre for Eating Disorders.