Research and analyze the biological, cognitive, and/or sociocultural etiologies.

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Anorexia Nervosa


Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder that makes people lose weight than is considered to be healthy for their age or height. People who have this disorder may have an intense fear of gaining weight, even when they are underweight. Most cases occur during the beginning stages of puberty and are most common among middle to upper class Caucasian women, making up 1% of the United States population. There are many biological factors that play in the role of anorexia nervosa. One of the most significant factor is genetics, although there have been studies that involve abnormal neurotransmitter levels in the brain as well. Studies have shown that genetic predisposition is a possible cause for developing an eating disorder. Females in a family which has a member with an eating disorder are more likely than average women to develop an eating disorder themselves. About half the women that develop anorexia originates from inheritance. Also, it has been found that identical twin sisters were more prone to develop eating disorders than non-identical twins. (Hirst)

Besides genetics, the brain is also another biological factor in developing anorexia. Neurotransmitters have been known to be linked to anorexia from studies done on the hypothalamus. The hypothalamic- pituitary- adrenal axis (HPA) is responsible for releasing certain neurotransmitters that include serotonin, nonrepinephrine, and dopamine, which regulate stress, mood, and appetite. Also, people with anorexia tend to have high levels of cortisol. Additionally, individuals who have eating disorders also tended to have decreased levels of serotonin and nonrepinephrine. This suggests a relation between abnormal biochemical make up and functioning of the HPA and the likelihood that an individual will develop an eating disorder. (”McCallum Place”)


Researchers believe that several psychological and emotional characteristics are possible causes of anorexia. People suffering from anorexia tend to have low self-worth and low self-esteem compared to other individuals. Additionally, individuals with anorexia often exhibit obsessive behaviors regarding food and diets and may often also display obsessive-compulsive personality traits in other parts of their life. Another possible cause could be a strong, extreme drive for perfectionism. Because of this desire, individuals who have anorexia are led to think that they are never thin enough regardless of the amount of weight that they have lost. These people are supposedly the “good” daughters and sons who do what they are told, and excel in everything they do in order to focus on pleasing others. An example could be parents who constantly criticize their daughter because of her weight, and supposedly force her to lose weight which causes these teenagers to lose more weight due to the additional pressure that they face from their parents. While they may appear to possess all these traits, on the inside they feel helpless, inadequate, and worthless. Through their own critical lens, if “they’re not perfect, they’re a failure.” (Smith and Segal)


In the sociocultural context, people who have anorexia usually are derived from criticism from others about their looks. Western culture, particularly the media promotes extreme thinness as the epitome of body perfection, success, and happiness. They portray models as skinny, thin, literally flawless which leads many to want to reshape their bodies. Thus, this leads many to become dissatisfied with their own bodies which then cause their self-esteem to plunge. They then turn towards dieting as they feel pressurized to be thin. Anorexia can develop from the desperation to live up to unrealistic cultural expectations. Another cause could be difficult and strained relationships within a family that makes a person view him or her in a negative way. Simultaneously pressure from school or work is also possible causes of developing anorexia nervosa (”Disordered Eating”). Similarly, success and self-worth are also commonly associated with being thin in the Western culture. (”McCallum Place”)

Works Cited

Hirst, Jeremy. "Biological Causes of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa." Biological Causes of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Serendip, 07 Jan. 2002. Web. 27 Feb. 2012. <>.

Smith, Melinda, and Jeanne Segal. "Anorexia Nervosa." : Signs, Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment., Jan. 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2012. <>.

"Causes of Anorexia Nervosa: Factors… " Causes of Anorexia: Biological & Psychological Risk Factors for Eating Disorders. McCallum Place Eating Disorder Treatment Programs in St. Louis, MO. Web. 27 Feb. 2012. <>.

"Causes of Anorexia Nervosa." Physiological, Psychological and Behavioural., 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2012. <>.