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The Causes of Eating Disorders and Food Addiction

The Causes of Eating Disorders and Food Addiction When I set out to become free on my journey from the different eating disorders I had experienced, I wanted to know what were the main causes of eating disorders. As I hoped that by researching the causes I could find the right area of focus and healing method for me. Then find the right eating disorder treatment to help ,e.

After discovering the causes and researching eating disorder treatment centers in the UK, Middle East and Asia (all close to Dubai) and their approach to helping with eating disorders I decided to go my own route and studied instead in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, London, Las Vegas and Athens on various different trainings programs to learn more about the mind, childhood trauma, grief and loss recovery, counselling, hypnotherapy and addictions.

I hope by understanding the various causes, one or two will speak to you and you will have great love and compassion for yourself. As once you identify where your addiction to food control or food addiction started it can help you to heal and begin your path to a happier and healthier life.

Before we start it is important to note that determining the exact cause of eating disorders can be fairly complex. Studies show that there is a combination of biological, psychological, and/or environmental factors that contribute to the development of eating disorders like bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, eating disorder not otherwise specified and binge eating disorder.

According to the Eating Disorders Org website and research there are 6 main causes of eating disorders.

By that they mean 6 main risk factors for binge eating disorder, bulimia, anorexia nervosa and eating disorder not otherwise specified known as EDNOS. I have also added in body dysmorphic disorder BDD because this has a huge link to eating disorders and is an area I am passionate about supporting men and women to become free from. I’ve also added self-harm.

So, let’s look at what these 9 causes of eating disorders are:

9 Most Common Causes of Eating Disorders


1, Genetics

There are an increasing numbers of family, twin, and adoption research studies which provided compelling evidence to show that there are genetic factors at play that contribute to a predisposition for the development of eating disorders.

I can certainly relate to this one, my mother said she had anorexia when she was 16 in response to her mum dying of breast cancer. Whilst I did not see her being Anorexic, she definitely when I was a toddler was restricting her food to stay thin. Even now she will say I wish I ate more when you children were young, I think I would have been happier. There are family pictures of me my brother, dad and sisters all having an ice cream on holiday and sadly my mum is not, just sat there. So this may be a genetic predisposition or nurture, me seeing this. The adoption studies showed that twins or siblings separated at birth went on to develop eating disorders, so clearly here nature not nurture was a factor.

According to some research studies into genes there are some specific genes that have been attributed to eating disorders also. To learn more about this you can visit the eating disorders org treatment website.


2, Personality Traits

The personality traits identified are thought to be highly heritable and will be prevalent before the eating disorder and after in recovery.

The most common personality traits linked to being the cause of eating disorders are

obsessive thinking


sensitivity to reward and punishment

harm avoidance

neuroticism (emotional instability and hypersensitivity)

rigidity and excessive persistence, especially in anorexia nervosa

impulsivity, especially in bulimia nervosa


What amazed me when I looked at the list of personality traits was that most of them could be overcome by helping someone to love themselves, boost their confidence and create a loving support group around them.

If you are a person who thinks obsessively what do you need? You need: calmness, inner peace, self-confidence, self-love to know everything is going to be ok, right?

Same with perfectionism, if you are a perfectionist you will benefit from some therapy that will help you to love yourself and accept your imperfections and flaws.

Similarly if you are a person who is sensitive to reward and punishment, then having a stronger sense of self, and self-reliance will also help.

With harm avoidance, what is a person with harm avoidance feeling, fear. What helps a person overcome and deal with that fear? Self-confidence, self-love, love from others and faith or trust that everything is going to be ok. The same goes with emotional instability.

Therefore to me it seems logical that any eating disorder treatment and counselling must include self-love and self-esteem boosting tools.


3, Biology

Interestingly there are biological factors to consider in food addiction and eating disorders. Even in healthy individuals without eating disorders, states of semi-starvation have been shown to trigger obsessive behavior around food, depression, anxiety and neuroticism that promote a continued cycle of starvation. As binge eaters, bulimics, EDNOS and of course anorexics are more likely to go through periods of starvation, for this reason biology can play a big factor in the causes of eating disorders.


4, Trauma

It has been well documented that many victims of physical and sexual abuse go on to develop eating disorders as a way to cope. With sexual abuse and physical abuse a person may want to have extra weight as a physical barrier to ward of people or unconsciously want to stay unattractive so they are not at risk. Research as also linked anorexia and bulimia with women wanting to not develop into a woman because of sexual abuse or with people wanting to die and end their life.

There is also a considerable amount of studies that have been conducted on patients with bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa, that have found that PTSD post-traumatic stress disorder was a big factor in the onset of the eating behavioral changes.

The eating disorder comes a way that the individual attempts to regain control or cope with the trauma and intense emotions.

What is the definition of trauma

“Individual trauma results from an event, a series of events, or a set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.


This trauma can include:

Sexual abuse

Physical abuse

Emotional abuse

Neglect, not getting your needs met as a child or neglect in romantic relationships

Witnessing violence

Major accidents, illnesses, or medical procedures


Natural disasters, forced displacement and war or terrorism

Grief and loss can be traumatic to an individual for example the death of a family member or separation from a parent, or divorce of parents, or death of a family pet. Especially for children. However because such traumatic grief occurs fairly regularly as does school bullying many people discard it as trauma, when in actual fact it can have a lasting psychological impact.


Sexual and physical abuse is inevitably traumatic and the healing process after such a abuse is also going to be both emotional and necessary for many.  Dr Peter Levine who created a therapy for healing after abuse and trauma estimates that as many as 1 in 4 people will have some kind of sexual trauma.


Another form of trauma and abuse is neglect, where an absent or distant parent can cause trauma by being absent. This often happens when a parent is an alcoholic or has another addiction and is not seeking treatment. For many this kind of trauma is hidden from the individual because no abuse took place, instead a lack of presence. Yet many research studies have shown that neglect for children can lead to various different emotional and social problems.

This is why it is important to reflect on your own life experiences, obviously not to dwell on them or bring up the past for the sake of it, instead it is looking back with compassion so you can move forward.

The reason I am mentioning trauma so much is because as many as 50% of those with eating disorders may also be struggling with trauma disorders, according to research from eating disorder treatment centers.

They also reported that survivors of trauma often struggle with shame, guilt, body dissatisfaction and a feeling of a lack of control.

Which was true for me and the countless other men and women I have supported to become free. Therefore I have found that helping someone to love themselves and create a great loving network around them is key to healing after abuse and the most effective eating disorder treatment.


5, Coping Skill Deficits

Researchers who looked into the causes of eating disorders examined the way sufferers handled negative experiences. Behaviors such as restricting, purging, bingeing, and excessive exercise were used as a response to emotional pain, to conflict, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, stress or trauma.

Basically there is a lack of positive ways to cope with current problems and emotional pain from the past, so the individual with an eating disorder will use food or not eating or compulsive food behaviours to manage the negative feelings. Unfortunately; this then becomes a vicious cycle, as they feel even worse for acting out with food and it causes more depression anxiety, stress and low self-esteem causing them to repeat the same damaging behavior and so on.

The best eating disorder treatment will acknowledge the absence of positive coping skills and provide them. This is what I have found to be extremely effective; listing new ways to face fears head on. Just like I mentioned earlier, if you boost self-esteem and self-love without a doubt this is going to really help.


6, Sociocultural Ideals

The media’s obsession with having the perfect body and the promotion of staying slim and trim can contribute to unrealistic body ideals in people with and without eating disorders. An increase in access to global media and the technological advances being able to modify photos to enhance looks, give a skewed perception of attainable beauty standards in modern society.

A researcher looked at the impact western TV had in rural Fiji – when it was introduced in 1998. He noted that the response of adolescents to the introduction of western television was concerning. The research found that the new media exposure resulted in significant preoccupations with body size, shape, weight, leading to purging behavior to control weight and also many had a negative self-image. This study clearly illustrates the vulnerability to images and values imported with the media.

However as not everyone exposed to media develops clinical eating disorders it is likely that such exposure can affects individuals who are already at risk, who perhaps already have low self-esteem, perfectionism and other personality traits that are linked to eating disorders.


7, Dieting

Alarmingly dieting is the most common precipitating factor in the development of an eating disorder. Given the fact that in the U.S., more than $60 billion is spent every year on diets and weight-loss products, the increase in levels of eating disorders is no surprise.

Because eating disorders are caused by dieting it is no wondered that those who diet continue to buy more and more dangerous weight loss products and follow plans that keep them stuck in a cycle of eating disorders.

Dieting has a very high failure rate 95-98% of people end up putting on the weight and often more weight than when they started. We are literally marketed to death on lose weight fast schemes and this leads to dire consequences.

Restrictive dieting is not effective for weight loss and is an unhealthy behavior for anyone, especially in children and adolescents.

This is where treatment for food addiction and eating disorders must be careful. As for those individuals who are either genetically predisposed to eating disorders or who are suffering from low self-esteem, trauma and negative self-image dieting can be the catalyst for heightened obsessions about weight, body shape and food.

You probably guess what I am going to say here right? The solution is clearly to have a strong sense of self-love where you won’t put your body through an extreme diet. Guilt and shame are common in those who diet because they feel that they are weak willed when they give into cravings to eat outside the rigid rules.

Dieting has been linked to higher rates of eating disorders, anxiety, depression and increased health problems related due to the restricting and binging cycle.

So what is the answer for a person to lose weight? The healthy answer that has been proven to help people with binge eating disorder and food addiction is to get them into mindful eating and intuitive eating.  This can also help people who have bulimia  and anorexia. As mindful eating and peaceful eating is the way to slow down the eating process and nurture yourself.  Many I give eating guidance to find this enhances their overall well-being too.


8, Body Dysmorphia Disorder

Body Dysmorphia Disorder BDD has been heavily linked as well to eating disorders. Individuals with eating disorders commonly suffer from body dysmorphia, displaying an overly negative body image or self-esteem.  It is not uncommon for a person with an eating disorder to obsess over their physical appearance or compare their physical appearance with others.

Clearly loving your body is going to be an essential element to healing body dysmorphia; it is so important that I ensure everyone I work with listen’s to my self-esteem boosting meditation hypnotherapy track and also purchase my 8 week self-love audio course to guide them.


If you would like to get your free copy of the self-love meditation click here

or read more about the self-love program click here


9, Self-harm

In some cases the cause of eating disorders can be an attempt to inflict harm, to punish oneself for the trauma or the perceived character or physical flaws.

This was my pattern with my eating disorder actually, I was so angry at my mum for always shouting at me. Yet I could never show it, so I repressed my anger and turned it inward and wanted to punish myself just the way my mum did.  In my teenage years maybe even younger I would starve myself when things went wrong and when I was angry. I used food as a punishment or reward. If I lost money, did not perform as well as work as I wanted, failed at something in my eyes, I would say to myself; well you are not going to eat now, you don’t deserve to eat or relax I would tell myself.


Thank you

Thank you for being here and wanting to change your habits, I admire you. Based on these very different causes it is clear to me that one thing is ultimately required when it comes to eating disorder treatment whether outpatient or inpatient and that’s the ability to love oneself and have a supportive loving community.

If you are looking at eating disorder treatment in Dubai, UAE, Middle East or further afield it is important to look for a comprehensive and integrated approach that combines positive coping skills, new eating strategies and tons of love.

Get in touch anytime

Mila TutorMila Tutor
07:10 25 Mar 23
I have worked with Nicola for some time now and have found her to be compassionate, kind, and extremely helpful. She has helped me a lot.
Riti SajitRiti Sajit
06:58 25 Mar 23
Nicola is a wonderful human 🤍 Thank you for helping me through my difficult time.Still living by your words and advice. I would definitely recommend anyone needing relationship counseling to try Nicola :)
Mihaela BotnariMihaela Botnari
12:54 17 Mar 23
Thank you for destroying my relationship. My partner reached out for support and you advised him that there is nothing for him to heal and that he should send his girlfriend for therapy, like this is your place to tell him. I’ve been through therapy myself and I know how to make the difference between a good therapist and someone who just wants to get more money, and the second seems to definitely be your purpose!
Helen HHelen H
19:13 10 Nov 22
Nicola’s support and advice proved invaluable when my marriage was struggling. Over a series of meetings (online and fact to face, to suit our needs), Nicola helped steer us through a very difficult time. She was always calm, neutral and never made us feel like we had failed or had ‘messed up’. Nicola has a wealth of experience and keeps up with current research, but has a very unique approach to getting you back on track. With regular support materials and just being there, she helped us realise that our relationship could go on; by making us look at ourselves and helping us consider the tools we needed to move forwards. I can honestly say that I don’t think our marriage would have survived such a difficult time without Nicola’s expertise. I often listen to Nicola’s podcasts on Spotify when I’m needing a bit of extra support. Thank you, Nicola
Justin LossJustin Loss
13:23 30 Jun 22
Nicola has been a massive help. I had tried traditional counseling and it had seemed to be moving me further away from what I wanted. After listening to several of Nicola's podcasts I decided to reach out to her. The discovery call was enlightening and she described a process that was more focused on creating a better future vs reliving the pass. From there I went through her Breakthrough Program...All I can say is Wow! Her program and guidance has quickly changed my mindset which has in turn improved all my relationships and overall stress level. I highly recommend working with Nicola and can't thank her enough for her help and care.
Ciaran CarlisleCiaran Carlisle
22:16 23 Jan 22
My partner and I spent a number of sessions with Nicola discussing our relationship difficulties, both together and one on one sessions. She has been so good to talk to - incredibly helpful and understanding with our problems.My partner and I have come out of this with a better understanding and move love for each other. Nicola has taught us many techniques to use in situations were we feel at odds which has been fantastic. We would recommend Nicola 100% for relationship advice.Thank you so much again.
Loida Delgado-PerezLoida Delgado-Perez
03:09 22 Jan 22
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Christianne KaddoumChristianne Kaddoum
17:19 20 Oct 21
The hours I’ve spent working with Nicola have been the most valuable of my life.I now feel equipped to do things differently. It’s been the most liberating and empowering experience and I’ve learnt things that will stay with me forever.Through the excellent help from Nicola, it is now possible for me to have a different and healthier approach to various situations.She has professionally helped me to consider my perspectives in a way I hadn’t before.I can finally begin to reframe my life experience and see them in a whole new light.Thanks Nicola!