LN – Eating disorders: what causes them and what are the warning signs

Although more and more stereotypes are put in check, we still live immersed in the culture of aesthetics, where the ideal of the “perfect body” associated with beauty and success. “The obsession with being thin has no age”, underlines Juana Pouálisis, a psychiatrist who for almost three decades has specialized in eating disorders (ED). He explains that in recent times eating disorders are not limited to the young or adolescent range, but have spread to new risk groups: cases of girls who have not yet had their first period like women over 40. Also, it indicates that the cases of men of all ages increased.

What to watch out for

Although each eating disorder has its peculiarities, there are some warning signs that can help detect risky situations:

What are the red flags?


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What are the causes?

Specialists agree that they are complex diseases, in which a multiplicity of factors intervene, including:

  • The biological predisposition.
  • The emotional vulnerability.
  • The personality characteristics (such as over-demand, impulsiveness or difficulty in putting emotions into words), from the family and social environment.

With respect to sociocultural factors that may be potential risks or influence the development of an eating disorder (ED), Mexican Eva Trujillo, former president of the Academy for Eating Disorders, pediatrician, specialist in adolescents and eating disorders, points out:

  • The stigma about weight: that is, discrimination based on the weight of the person. According to the specialist, a constant message prevails in society that being thin is better and desirable, which can lead vulnerable populations to develop an eating disorder.
  • The bullying linked to weight. More than half of those who suffer from eating disorders report having previously been bullied for their weight.
  • The figure of the “perfect body”: the ideal stereotype of the body that society has imposed on us and to which only, according to Trujillo, three out of every 100 women can obtain naturally.
  • Limited social supportAlthough it is not clearly described as a risk factor, and possibly linked to other pathologies such as social anxiety, many of those who suffer from ED, particularly anorexia nervosa, report having few friends, very limited social activities and, therefore, fewer social support and feeling isolated.
  • The influence of social networks and media: the longer time spent on social media, the more problem. Recent studies show that edited selfies are a risk factor for eating disorders.
  • Obsession for healthy food: the tendency to eat “healthy” with many restrictions can become dangerous, especially among younger girls. Alicia Alemán, a psychologist with vast experience in eating disorders, explains: “A healthy diet implies that you can eat everything in moderation, no foods that are forbidden, not allowed, considered bad or feared, and with moderate physical activity “.

Eating disorders: some warning signs


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How to accompany

What to do if we are worried? It depends on the age. Paula Hernández, psychologist and general coordinator of La Casita, explains that if we notice something that catches our attention, it is best to expand the network to see if other people are noticing those signs. And it gives a series of recommendations:

  • To intervene: In the case of children or adolescents, it is best to talk to an adult, be it a father, a mother or a teacher. It has to be a significant person who can intervene.
  • Don’t leave them alone: since many times people with an eating disorder isolate themselves, stop going out or answering calls. For this reason, friends should not take it personally but it is good that they understand that whoever suffers from an eating disorder is going through a bad time. When it comes to planning programs or outings, the advice is to look for those activities that are not related to food, since that is what it costs you the most.
  • Do not make comments related to physical appearance: It is advisable to mention the state of mind, their attitude or the bond but not their physical appearance. For example: “You have the happiest look” or “I notice you more animated”.
  • Seek professional help: all help should be geared towards starting treatment as these disorders do not resolve on their own and require an interdisciplinary approach. Recovery becomes easier when behaviors are not so installed and early detection is also important to avoid triggering other pathologies.

Where to turn for help

  • La Casita: is a care and prevention center for adolescents and young people and their families. To address the problem that may arise, it works emphasizing the resources of the person and their family system, relying mainly on the peer group. Tel .: 011 4787-5432.
  • Durand Hospital. Tel .: 011 4982-5555 / 5655
  • Hospital Piñero Tel .: 011 4631-8100 / 0526
  • Borda Hospital Tel .: 011 4305-6666 / 6485
  • Pirovano Hospital Tel .: 011 4546-4300
  • Argerich Hospital Tel .: 011 4121-0700
  • Garrahan Hospital Tel .: 011 4122-6000
  • Gutiérrez Hospital Tel .: 011 4962-9247


Publicado en el diario La Nación

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