When a child is diagnosed with an eating disorder parents naturally have many questions. Can peer pressure cause an eating disorder? Did I do something to cause this? Eating disorders are complex medical problems characterized by irregular eating habits, distorted body image, and several related anxieties. The complex nature of these disorders makes pinning down a single cause very difficult; though similarities in the manifestation of eating disorders exist it is hard to say for certain why some people develop these disorders and others do not.
There is no doubt that peers play a major role in the life of any teenager or young adult. Peer groups can influence interests and behaviors for good or ill. However, rather than saying that peer pressure directly causes a person to develop an eating disorder it might be more accurate to say that peer pressure can create a degree of anxiety that a person feels unable to manage on their own. In an effort to cope with the anxiety surrounding peer interactions (among other things) a person may “act in” by restricting food intake, binging, or exercising obsessively.
So can peer pressure cause an eating disorder? In some cases, anxiety regarding peer group interactions can contribute to the development of an eating disorder but this isn’t the case for everyone. Young adults must cope with numerous forms of anxiety and stress, any one of which can become part of what causes them to develop an eating disorder. While there are rarely straightforward answers regarding the cause of these complex disorders, it’s important to remember that recovery is possible.