Possible causes of bulimia include personality factors, genetics, environmental factors, body image, and biochemistry. Because doctors and scientists are not sure of the exact causes, research continues to try to better understand the connection between certain risk factors and eating disorders such as bulimia.
While there is no single known cause of bulimia, several things may increase a person's risk of developing it. These risk factors include:
- Personality factors
- Genetic and environmental factors
- Body image
Most people with bulimia share certain personality traits: low self-esteem, feelings of helplessness, and a fear of becoming fat. In bulimia, eating behaviors seem to develop as a way of handling stress.
Bulimia appears to run in families, with female relatives most often affected. However, there is growing evidence that a girl's immediate social environment, including her family and friends, can emphasize the importance of thinness and weight control. For example, regular discussion of weight and dieting may normalize societal pressure to be thin. Weight-related teasing by peers and family is related to low self-esteem and eating disturbances in young girls.
Studies have shown that girls who live in families that tend to be strict and that place strong emphasis on physical attractiveness and weight control are at an increased risk for inappropriate eating behaviors.
In addition, people pursuing professions or activities that emphasize thinness -- like modeling, dancing, gymnastics, wrestling, and long-distance running -- are more susceptible to the problem.