The objective of this study was to examine whether there is an association between individual and family eating patterns during childhood and early adolescence and the likelihood of developing a subsequent eating disorder (ED). A total of 1664 participants took part in the study. The ED cases (n 879) were referred for assessment and treatment to specialized ED units in five different European countries and were compared to a control group of healthy individuals (n 785). Participants completed the Early Eating Environmental Subscale of the Cross-Cultural (Environmental) Questionnaire, a retrospective measure, which has been developed as part of a European multicentre trial in order to detect dimensions associated with ED in different countries. In the control group, also the General Health Questionnaire-28 (GHQ-28), the semi-structured clinical interview (SCID-I) and the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26) were used. Five individually Categorical Principal Components Analysis (CatPCA) procedures were adjusted, one for each theoretically expected factor. Logistic regression analyses indicated that the domains with the strongest effects from the CatPCA scores in the total sample were: food used as individualization, and control and rules about food. On the other hand, healthy eating was negatively related to a subsequent ED. When differences between countries were assessed, results indicated that the pattern of associated ED factors did vary between countries. There was very little difference in early eating behaviour on the subtypes of ED. These findings suggest that the fragmentation of meals within the family and an excessive importance given to food by the individual and the family are linked to the later development of an ED.