Although the precise cause of anorexia is unknown, certain factors can increase the risk of developing anorexia, including:

  • Genetic. Some people may be genetically vulnerable to developing anorexia. Young women with a biological sister or mother with an eating disorder are at high risk, suggesting a possible genetic link. The role of genetics is not yet clearly understood, but it may be that some people have a genetic tendency toward perfectionism. However, it's not clear specifically how genetics may play a role. It may be that some people have a genetic tendency toward perfectionism, sensitivity and perseverance, traits associated with anorexia. There's also some evidence that serotonin - one of the brain chemicals involved in depression - may play a role in anorexia.
  • Psychological. People with anorexia may have low self-esteem as well as perfectionism. In addition, they may have obsessive-compulsive personality traits that make it easier to stick to strict diets and forgo food despite being hungry. They may have an extreme drive for perfectionism, which means they may never think they're thin enough.
  • Cultural. Modern Western culture often cultivates and reinforces the notion that thin is beautiful, and success is often equated with being thin. Peer pressure may contribute to the desire to be thin, particularly among young girls. However, anorexia and other eating disorders existed centuries ago, suggesting that cultural values aren't entirely responsible.<