What Causes Bulimia?

The exact cause of bulimia nervosa is unknown. As with other mental disorders, there are many possible factors that could play a role in the development of eating disorders, such as genes, certain behaviors, psychological disorders, and family and societal influences:

  • Biology: There may be genes that make some people more vulnerable to developing eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa. People with first-degree relatives — siblings or parents — with an eating disorder may be more likely to develop an eating disorder as well, suggesting a possible genetic link. It’s also possible that a deficiency in the brain chemical serotonin may play a role in the development of bulimia.
  • Behavior: Certain behaviors, such as dieting or over-exercising, can contribute to the development of bulimia nervosa. For example, dieting helps encourage rigid rules about food, which when broken can lead to loss of control and overeating.
  • Emotional Health: People with eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa may have psychological and emotional problems that contribute to the disorder. They may have low self-esteem, perfectionism, impulsive behavior, anger management difficulties, past trauma, family conflicts and/or troubled relationships.
  • Society: The modern cultural environment often cultivates and reinforces a desire for thinness which can manifest as bulimia nervosa. Success and worth are often equated with being thin in popular culture. Peer pressure and what people see in the media may fuel this desire to be thin, particularly among young women.