What is the Motivation for Anorexia?

What is the Motivation for Anorexia?

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For those who don’t struggle with anorexia, it can be difficult to understand. How could someone just not eat?

And while we may never fully grasp what a person with anorexia might be going through, it’s a good idea for us to try, especially if someone we love starves themselves or seems headed in that direction.

Let’s move forward with an open mind and an open heart as we seek to understand what a person struggling with anorexia hopes to gain from her actions.

Important Question: Is Anorexia Somewhat Involuntary?

Before we discuss the possible motivations for engaging in anorexia, we should consider a recent discovery made by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

They found that women in recovery from anorexia did not respond the same way to samples of plain water and sugar water as did the women who never experienced anorexia. In a typical scenario, sugar water would cause a reaction in the brain, encouraging a person to eat. But in women who have struggled with anorexia in the past, sugar water caused no such reaction. (1)

Perhaps instead of ignoring hunger cues, some people simply do not get them. This possibility, combined with the motivations we discuss below, helps shed light on why a person might engage in such dangerous dietary habits.

6 Common Reasons a Person May Choose Anorexia

So, beyond biological influences, why might a person be motivated to engage in anorexia?

Let’s look at a few common reasons:


Anorexia is sometimes simply an extension of an already perfectionistic lifestyle. (2) This person excels in school or work, keeps a tidy home and car, and always looks put together just so. Managing the body falls right in line; with what the average person would see as extreme, the perfectionist sees as a baseline standard.

Weight Loss

Anorexia may start off slow as a person attempts to lose weight with increasingly extreme measures. By drastically reducing calories, the pounds begin to fall off fast. This quick success can encourage some people to eat less and less, with any attempt at increasing calories seen as a failure to manage weight.


Our societal standards continue to get more and more difficult to achieve. For some people, being thin isn’t so much about weight loss or looking perfect as it is about fitting in and feeling worthy. Anorexia makes a person to feel like they might be good enough one day—if they could just be a little thinner. (3)

Coping Mechanism

For others, anorexia isn’t about looks, weight loss, or perfectionism but rather a way to manage overwhelming emotions. This is especially true for people who experienced a difficult childhood or currently deal with conflict regularly as an adult. (3) When life feels out of control, anorexia offers the promise of something a person can control.

Of course, the frightening truth is that regardless of biological influence or understandable motivation, anorexic behaviors are incredibly dangerous and even life-threatening.

If someone you love struggles with anorexia, you can offer both empathy and support. We’d love to help. Give us a call today at 562-434-6007.




      1. https://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/Pages/2020-03-12-how-brain-biology-promotes-starvation-in-patients-with-anorexia.aspx
      2. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/anorexia-nervosa/understanding-anorexia-basics
      3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anorexia-nervosa/symptoms-causes/syc-20353591