What Causes Bulimia?

There is no one cause of bulimia. A number of different biological, psychological and sociocultural factors contribute to the development of this condition.

Family ties to bulimia

More than 50 percent of the risk of developing an eating disorder is based on your genetics, underscoring a strong familial component to these illnesses. In fact, a woman with a mother or sister who has bulimia is four times more likely to develop bulimia as well.1

Personality traits

Personality traits are believed to be inherited, and a distinct set of traits has been found to be common among those at highest risk for bulimia. Traits like the following tend to characterize those struggling with bulimia and other eating disorders:

  • High impulsivity
  • Low self-directedness
  • High harm avoidance
  • Difficulty seeing the “big picture”
  • Rigidity

Other causes of bulimia

While genetic risk plays an important role in the development of bulimia, not all individuals with a family history of this disorder will develop the illness. And, many individuals with no known genetic link to eating disorders develop bulimia.

There are certain triggering events and circumstances that can provoke bulimia symptoms. This includes:

  • Traumatic experiences
  • Difficulty with a life transition
  • A diet gone awry or pressure to lose weight
  • “Eat healthy” messages from parents, coaches and trainers are common eating disorder triggers

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