What are the Causes of Bulimia?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2018
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Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by binging on food then expelling it quickly through purging. This disorder can lead to serious and even fatal health problems, making nutrition a lifelong struggle and sometimes causing permanent organ damage. There are many different theories on the causes of bulimia. Many health experts believe that the causes of bulimia are often a diverse mix of environmental and chemical or genetic factors.

Bulimia functions as an ongoing cycle starting with food deprivation or starvation. A person denies him or herself food, usually due to fear of weight gain. Driven by intense hunger, a bulimic may then binge on food, eating a great deal at once. In a wave of guilt and often self-disgust, a bulimic person will then attempt to purge the body of the excess food, often by vomiting or taking laxative medications.

Many health experts believe that some of the causes of bulimia are actually chemical in nature. Some studies have shown that bulimia acts similarly to hereditary disposition toward addiction; children or relatives of bulimics may be more likely to suffer from the same condition. Many bulimics also struggle with addictions to alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication, possibly due to the same inherited brain chemistry.


Although there is no definition of the exact causes of bulimia, many experts suggest that the majority of factors leading to the condition are psychological. The cycle of binging and purging often begins with a distorted or highly negative body image; in some cases, people see their body as fat and disgusting even if they are underweight. Many bulimics first try normal forms of dieting, but lack of results or their own poor body images begin to push them into the dangerous habits of eating disorders.

Poor body image itself may be caused by several different factors. Social ideals about the correct body type and weight have long been considered abnormal by many health experts; unable to achieve the airbrushed and toned looks of a supermodel on a magazine, a person could understandable experience feelings of failure and self-loathing. Peer pressure is also thought to be one of the causes of bulimia, as a person tries to meet or match the looks or ideals of a peer group. Some studies have also found a strong tie between children that have suffered physical or sexual abuse and the development of eating disorders.

Many causes of bulimia can combine in an individual to create a severe, dangerous condition that may require years of treatment and rehabilitation. Like an addiction to alcohol, a bulimic may always be in recovery, never able to fully overcome the impulses of the disorder. Understanding the causes of bulimia can help a bulimic or concerned friends begin to recognize the condition and seek appropriate help.



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