Bulimia Nervosa Health Center

There is no single cause for bulimia, and a large amount of environmental and social factors are thought to interplay with possible genetic predispositions. The “thin ideal” presented in many western cultures has been demonstrated to be a primary cause. Bulimia can run in families. Traumatic events such as sexual abuse or life stressors have been shown to increase the risk of developing bulimia.

There is no single known cause of bulimia, but there are some factors that may play a part.

  • Culture: Women in many Western cultures are under constant pressure to fit a certain ideal of beauty. Seeing images of flawless, thin females everywhere makes it hard for some women to feel good about their bodies.
  • Families: If you have a mother or sister with bulimia, you are more likely to also have bulimia. Parents who think looks are important, diet themselves, or criticize their children's bodies are more likely to have a child with bulimia.
  • Life changes or stressful events: Traumatic events (like rape), as well as stressful things (like starting a new job), can lead to bulimia.
  • Personality traits: A person with bulimia may not like herself, hate the way she looks, or feel hopeless. She may be very moody, have problems expressing anger, or have a hard time controlling impulsive behaviors.
  • Biology: Genes, hormones, and chemicals in the brain may be factors in developing bulimia.
Review Date: 
March 15, 2012
Last Updated:
August 22, 2014