Bulimia Causes

by Catherine Rein
(last updated April 22, 2009)

Though many more women than men become bulimic, it can happen to anyone, male, female, young, old and from any culture or ethnic background. It was once thought that people of Asian, African-American, American Indian or Alaska Native women could not become bulimic, that they were protected by their culture's acceptance of many body sizes, but as these groups are increasingly exposed to images of thin women, they are more likely to become bulimic.

Bulimia and other associated eating disorders are linked with some common causes. Though this list is not comprehensive, it includes many of the components that all sufferers of eating disorders are challenged with:

  • Culture. With the images of thin men and women popularized on media throughout U.S. culture, the stress to attain a "perfect" body can be extreme. This pressure often extends through families, who push their young people to be thin. Our cultural exposure, especially in the U.S., has increasingly been overwhelmed with food. Whether through advertisements for fast food or diet treatments, we are constantly bombarded with images of food. This unnatural obsession with food is linked with higher levels of eating disorders in our population.
  • Life Changes and Stress. Traumatic events, such as sexual assault, can cause bulimia. Teenagers going through puberty are also often under stress to attain a perfect body size and may develop bulimia. When stressful events feel out of control sometimes people develop bulimia as an attempt to "control" one aspect of their lives. By controlling their food intake and food absorption the sufferer attempts to exert unnatural "control" over their body.
  • Psychology. Self-esteem plays a part in whether or not a person will develop an eating disorder such as bulimia. Persons without healthy coping mechanisms may become depressed, moody or angry or feel like they can't control impulsive behaviors.

We also now know that biology plays a part in patients diagnosed with bulimia. Patients with bulimia have high levels of cortisol, the brain hormone related to stress and decreased levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, the hormones involved with feelings of well-being.

Overcoming eating disorders is not easy and will require the help of trained professionals. A healthy body image and healthy mindset about weight are keys to avoiding eating disorders. By staying away from the scale and enjoying food because of its healthy taste and the way it strengthens your body you can begin to view your body in a different and healthy way.

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