The Influence of Divorce on Eating Disorder Development in the Adolescent

Mother adolescent daughter support for divorce

Research has shown us that eating disorders are complex psychiatric illnesses with psycho-social, environmental, and biological influences. When it comes to adolescents who develop eating disorders, it is important to understand that families are not to “blame” for the disease, and by objectively looking at possible influences, treatment can be individualized in support of encouraging full recovery. In the case of adolescents who may be biologically susceptible to developing eating disorders, environmental influences in the form of family stressors can have an impact. This might include a number of things, such as the experience of parents divorcing.

Understanding the Impact of Divorce on Adolescents

The rate of divorce among married couples has increased in the United States, with estimates of the lifelong probability of a marriage ending in divorce between forty to fifty percent [1]. These startling statistics reveal the reality that many children will face in their households growing up, and it is important to understand how this experience may be triggering to an adolescent who is susceptible to an eating disorder.

Research has found some connections between parental divorce and the incidence of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction in adolescents. One study that examined this connection found that the heritability of body dissatisfaction was significantly higher in participants from divorced families compared to intact families [2]. Other research has identified the connection between parental divorce and behavioral/mental health issues in children.

Parent supportThis may be related to the many emotional and psychological issues that children can potentially experience as the result of a divorce, such as moving, separating time between parents, feelings of abandonment, fear or losing one parent, etc.

For a child who may be susceptible to an eating disorder, reestablishing a sense of control may feel achievable through abnormal food behaviors.

Working to Support a Child Through Divorce

Divorce is never easy for any parties involved – neither parents or children, and it can be difficult to manage the various moving parts through the process. While it may be challenging to do so, attempting to make the process as amicable as possible for the sake of the child can help decrease the many tensions that are already being experienced.

Spending intentional one on one time with a child during this process and being attentive to emotional/mental needs can also help them through this challenging time. While eating disorders cannot be prevented, understanding the potential triggers from divorce can support a child who may be experiencing this in their own life.

Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing, Crystal serves as the Director of Content and Social Media for Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope, where her passion to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH/AH and nutrition private practice.


[1]: PolitiFact New Jersey. “Steve Sweeney claims two-thirds of marriages end in divorce”. Truth-O-Meter. Retrieved 3rd January 2017.
[2]: Suisman, Jessica, et al. Parental divorce and disordered eating: an investigation of a gene-environment interaction. Int J Eat Disord. 2011 Mar.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 3, 2017
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