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Question:

A person I know who is a former model claims that her modeling career was the only factor that caused her eating disorder and heavily blames the fashion world, mainstream media, and Hollywood as to why she developed one. She believes that there is a separate category to place people whose eating disorders were allegedly caused by the media from those who may have a genetic/biological reason for their eating disorder, and that people who fall into her category did not succumb to the disease because they were mentally ill, but due to society's pressures. Having had anorexia myself and been in many treatment facilities, I was always taught that while certainly the media is a huge problem and negative inluence, it can not alone cause an eating disorder by itself. I understand many factors from the media or traumatic events may pull the trigger down the path to disordered eating, but was always told the over-all cause based on research and science is belief that it is something in the brain. I was curious about what an expert's opinion is on this theory, and if you agree with this person's position that some people with eating disorders do not fall into the mentally ill category because the media was primarily responsible for their eating disorder. If this were the case, then how come every person who models, acts, or reads a fashion magazine doesn't have one? Thank you.

Answered by: Allegra Broft

Your query brings up an interesting question about the causes of eating disorders. The extent to which eating disorders are caused by biological factors, versus other factors (such as environment) is an important one. Unfortunately, no one yet knows exactly how much a problem like anorexia nervosa is attributable to biological vs. environmental factors, although many experts agree that both types of factors are likely to play some role. It is also true that the extent to which different factors (genetic versus environmental) contribute to a person’s struggle with eating issues such as anorexia may vary somewhat from person to person. Additionally, factors which initiate anorexia nervosa may be distinct from factors which maintain anorexia nervosa. What may be most important for your friend, in any case, is that she finds ways to address her struggles with eating. Working with professionals may allow your friend to come to a shared conceptualization of her problems with eating, which may allow her to begin moving towards improved health.