Are eating disorders heriditary? Its a widely debated question amongst mental health practitioners and the general public alike. I want to dedicate todays post to sharing my personal views on the topic.
So, where do I stand?
Its a very difficult question to answer. Eating disorders have no one cause, they are often a combination of lots of different factors, all of which are personal to the individual and their circumstances. Depending on personal experience, the conclusion you reach is likely to differ. As someone with a family history of eating disorders/dysfunctional relationships with food, I will likely possess a different view to someone in a family with no history of ED’s.
The question in my mind has to be broken up even further, to question if family history does have a part to play in the onset of eating disorders. Is it a resulting factor of nature or nurture, i.e. is it heriditary (genetic) or is it developed over time due to upbringing/primary socialisation?
I believe that nurture is what causes eating disorders, as opposed to nature.
In my own family, the first person (that I know of) to have developed an eating disorder/unhealthy relationship with food, is my Mum. My Mums parents didn’t have any issues surrounding food, and I am not aware of any previous generations having had problems either. However, both me and my older sister have both had/have eating disorders.
So, why don’t I think this is herditary? Surely my Mum must have passed a gene that made me and my sister susceptible to developing eating disorders? I don’t believe this to be the case. If this was true, that eating disorders arise due to certain genes, then why didn’t my grandma have an eating disorder? The most likely reason is because it is in fact passed on by behaviour, not by gene. We learn by what we see, whether that is via primary socialisation or secondary. As I don’t believe that anyone before my Mum has had any history of eating disorders, my Mum most likely developed her dysfunctional relationship with food due to her secondary socialisation (e.g. the media, school, friendship groups etc.) In contrast, I believe that my eating disorder was as a result of both primary and secondary socialisation. I undoubtebly picked up some habits from my Mum in my early days, however a big contributing factor was my running, something that occurred in secondary socialisation.
So, I suppose the main point of this post is to emphasise the fact that eating disorders shouldn’t be blamed on any one thing. They are so complex which is why statistics show that only 46% of Anorexia patients fully recover. Because there is unlikely to be just one sole cause, it is hard to get the right therapy that will help you to fully recover, hence why the recovery rate is relatively low compared with other illnesses. Sometimes people might not even completley understand their illness themselves. I know I didn’t, and to this day I still don’t fully know. It takes a lot of soul searching and digging through some potentially painful pasts to reach some sort of clarity. The only thing that is certain is that recovery takes all you’ve got, and there’s no denying that it will be one of, if not the most hardest thing you will ever have to go through, but it is worth it and you will come out of it stronger, braver and most importantly, alive.