Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and overeating develop in people of all shapes and sizes, from all backgrounds and walks of life. Here are three common ways an eating disorder develops:

Low Self-Image or Self-Esteem

It may seem like common sense: Low self-confidence can lead to someone not caring for him- or herself. But the cause of a negative self-image can run much deeper than just body image. On the surface, an eating disorder seems to be all about weight, but the desire to reach a certain size may be a symptom of underlying self-loathing.

An eating disorder can develop when other efforts to increase confidence have failed, or have not been externally recognized. Our society has become obsessed with physical appearance. “Beauty” has been defined as “thin.” If an individual has not created a fulfilled, internal personal opinion, society’s external opinions can dominate his or her self-image. The desire to look a certain way, paired with inner pain, can trigger the development of an eating disorder.

Co-Existing Disorders

In many cases, the symptoms of a mental illness contribute to the need for control. When your brain chemistry is altered, and your own mind is telling you that you are fat, or that you will feel better (or will feel less shame) when you restrict what you eat, or get rid of all the calories you just ate, it is extremely difficult to self-regulate.

Instead, self-medication occurs with pleasure coming from food restriction (anorexia nervosa), eating a lot of food, called bingeing, and then vomiting or purging (bulimia nervosa), or simply overeating (without engaging in purging).

Without understanding how a mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, or a personality disorder, is affecting you, an eating disorder can develop quickly. Treatment for both can stop eating-disordered behaviors.

A Disconnection from the Body

Ultimate health is achieved when the mind, body, and soul are connected. While this may sound too holistic for your taste, take a minute to think about what it means. When integrated, the body and the mind can alert the soul, the essence of who you are, to anything that does not feel right.

This process happens naturally. The body alerts you to when it is hungry, tired, and in pain. If you touch a hot stove, the body sends a signal to the brain: “That hurts! Don’t do that!,” so you do not touch the hot stove again.

When you can listen to the signals the body sends, you can respond accordingly. When you are not in touch, you cannot respond because you are not properly receiving the signals. An eating disorder can develop as the result of faulty internal communication. Wanting control of something coming from the mind, for example, may take the place of the hungry signal coming from the body.