• 10Jan

    Why do people become bulimic? (Part 1)

    Common factors contributing to the development of bulimia

    As every individual is unique, the triggers for any eating disorder also varies from one individual to the next. There is no mold to fit all the people who struggle with bulimia. There is no cut and dry answer as to why a person may become bulimic.

    There are however, some common traits and influencing factors that may lead to the development of bulimia. Some of these factors include but are not limited to: genetics, experiencing trauma, personality, family and culture. While none of these factors are a sure predictor of an individual developing an eating disorder, any combination of them may play a significant role.

    In this post, we’ll look at genetics, trauma, personality and influence on family in the development of an eating disorder. Stay tuned for part two of this post, where we’ll discuss the role of culture in the development of an eating disorder.



    As researchers learn more about genetics and biology, they are able to associate genetic traits with certain behaviors. There are groups of genes that are involved with depression, anxiety and mental disorders. It is thought that as much as 50-80% of an individual’s risk of developing an eating disorder may be attributed to genetics.


    Many times, individuals who struggle with eating disorders have been habitual dieters or preoccupied with dieting for a long period of time. When that individual experiences trauma such as abuse, death of a loved one, stress of an accident or a major life change, it may trigger episodes of binging and purging. Again, in these cases bulimia may be a coping mechanism for trauma.


    There is not one personality type that is a predictor of an eating disorder. However, many eating disorder patients might possess any combination of personality traits that are common among eating disorder sufferers. These traits include but are not limited to perfectionism, compulsive or impulsive behavior, sensitivity and inflexibility.
    If an individual struggles with anxiety, depression, feelings of being unloved or overwhelmed, he or she may turn to bulimia as a coping mechanism.



    Bulimia does not discriminate by race, gender, age or social class, but family environment can play a role in the development of the disorder. Many men and women who struggle with bulimia or another eating disorder come from families where communication was lacking, emotions and affection were not expressed and physical, emotional or sexual abuse was present.


    In cases of family dysfunction, an eating disorder (as well as depression or substance abuse) might become a form of escape. It may also be a coping mechanism to deal with the pressure parents put on their child to succeed. The intricacies of family relationships can play a major role in the development of bulimia.


    We are continuously faced with mass media messages of what defines “beautiful.” Our culture has come to define beautiful as skinny. Many people falsely believe the key to happiness is being thin. A well-known study by Harvard researchers on the eating and diet habits of people living on the island of Fiji clearly demonstrates the role culture and media have on one’s body image.

    Prior to the arrival of TV to the island in 1995, Fijians celebrated the “full figure” and there were virtually no cases of eating disorders in the nation. Nearly 3 years after the introduction of TV to the Fijian people, a survey found that 74% of teenage girls felt they were “too big or too fat” and 15% of the girls surveyed said they had vomited to control their weight.  Western images of “beauty” had infiltrated the culture, shifting their perception of what defines beauty.

    Read more about the Fiji study here.

    In addition to TV messages, the idea of thin is also all over the Internet, magazines and other mass media. The media glorifies bulimia and anorexia. While culture may have a stronger influence on one individual than another, the influence of culture for many people who suffer from an eating disorder is undeniable.

    While none of the above factors are a certain predictor of an eating disorder, each of them have been known to play a role in the development of eating disorders. One might experience one or more of these factors in his or her life without ever developing bulimia or another eating disorder while for another, any of these factors may trigger the onset of an eating disorder.

    Bulimia nervosa is a serious disease, which can cause serious medical complications and cannot be treated by an individual simply modifying his or her behavior. Bulimia has psychological and emotional roots that must be treated as well. It is an illness that often cannot be treated without the help of a professional. If you suspect a loved one is suffering from bulimia, do not ignore the signs. Seek immediate help from a professional.