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What causes Bulimia Nervosa and what can one do to prevent it?

Last updated April 21, 2016

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Bulimia Nervosa is potentially life-threatening eating disorder that can be caused by a wide variety of factors, ranging from genetics to societal and familial pressures. As a mental health disorder, Bulimia Nervosa has an etiology that can stem from a wide variety of causes, which can act collaboratively to produce the disorder’s classic symptoms.


Bulimia Nervosa is potentially life-threatening eating disorder that can be caused by a wide variety of factors, ranging from genetics to societal and familial pressures. As a mental health disorder, Bulimia Nervosa has an etiology that can stem from a wide variety of causes, which can act collaboratively to produce the disorder’s classic symptoms. Additionally, these causes can be due to biologic, emotional, or societal stresses. 

The exact etiology of Bulimia Nervosa are currently unknown, although it is believed that some of the main causes can include stressful life transitions, prior history of trauma, and poor self-esteem. Another suspected cause for Bulimia Nervosa is genetically based, as studies have suggested that the risk for developing Bulimia Nervosa increases if a family member has had it previously. 

Asides from family history as a potential cause of Bulimia Nervosa, social stresses for young women in college or high school can also affect eating behaviors. Extreme dieting or cycles of binging and purging can be socially encouraged by peers, which can then lead to the development of eating disorders such as Bulimia Nervosa. 

There is no hard and fast way to prevent Bulimia Nervosa, however steps can be taken to promote healthier attitudes towards food. Early onset Bulimia Nervosa has been previously demonstrated to be especially debilitating to those fifteen years and younger. Because of this, parent should take preventative measures to foster healthy body images in their children while they are young. Another means of prevention for Bulimia Nervosa is for parents and/or guardians to frequently listen to their children in order to benefit their emotional health. 

Furthermore, friends and families should attempt to schedule regular shared meals as a means of binge eating prevention. Because Bulimia Nervosa can be caused in part by emotional and societal stresses, it is important to provide individuals with appropriate venues of social support. Talking to friends, family, or health care professionals is especially imperative to those believed to be at risk or currently suffering from Bulimia Nervosa. Early diagnosis and initiation of treatment increases the likelihood of successful recovery, as well as a better prognosis overall.

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD)
750 E Diehl Road #127 Naperville, IL 60563
Phone: (630) 577-1330
Email: anadhelp@anad.org
Website: http://www.anad.org

Mayo Clinic
200 First St. SW, Rochester, MN 55905
Phone: (507) 284-2511
Website: http://www.mayoclinic.org

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

ANAD. (n.d.). Retrieved March 03, 2016, from http://www.anad.org/?pagerd_m7bf6nfusor

Bulimia Nervosa | National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.). Retrieved March 03, 2016, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bulimia-nervosa

Bulimia nervosa. (2016). Retrieved March 03, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bulimia/symptoms-causes/dxc-20179827

Bulimia nervosa. (2016). Retrieved March 03, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bulimia/manage/ptc-20179883

Bulimia: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved March 03, 2016, from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000341.htm

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

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Agras, W. S., Schneider, J. A., Arnow, B., Raeburn, S. D., & Telch, C. F. (1989). Cognitive-behavioral and response-prevention treatments for bulimia nervosa. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57(2), 215.

Leitenberg, H., Gross, J., Peterson, J., & Rosen, J. C. (1984). Analysis of an anxiety model and the process of change during exposure plus response prevention treatment of bulimia nervosa. Behavior Therapy, 15(1), 3-20.

Leitenberg, H., Rosen, J. C., Gross, J., Nudelman, S., & Vara, L. S. (1988). Exposure plus response-prevention treatment of bulimia nervosa. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56(4), 535.

Bulik, C. M., Sullivan, P. F., Carter, F. A., McIntosh, V. V., & Joyce, P. R. (1998). The role of exposure with response prevention in the cognitive-behavioural therapy for bulimia nervosa. Psychological Medicine, 28(03), 611-623.

Shapiro, J. R., Berkman, N. D., Brownley, K. A., Sedway, J. A., Lohr, K. N., & Bulik, C. M. (2007). Bulimia nervosa treatment: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 40(4), 321-336.

Fichter, M. M., Kruger, R., Rief, W., Holland, R., & Dohne, J. (1996). Fluvoxamine in prevention of relapse in bulimia nervosa: effects on eating-specific psychopathology. Journal of clinical psychopharmacology, 16(1), 9-18.

Compas, B. E., Haaga, D. A., Keefe, F. J., Leitenberg, H., & Williams, D. A. (1998). Sampling of empirically supported psychological treatments from health psychology: Smoking, chronic pain, cancer, and bulimia nervosa.Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 66(1), 89.

Russell, G. (1979). Bulimia nervosa: an ominous variant of anorexia nervosa.Psychological medicine, 9(03), 429-448.

Thompson, R. A., & Sherman, R. T. (1993). Helping athletes with eating disorders. Human Kinetics Publishers.

Tozzi, F., Sullivan, P. F., Fear, J. L., McKenzie, J., & Bulik, C. M. (2003). Causes and recovery in anorexia nervosa: The patient's perspective.International Journal of Eating Disorders, 33(2), 143-154.

Polivy, J., & Herman, C. P. (2002). Causes of eating disorders. Annual review of psychology, 53(1), 187-213.

Papadopoulos, F. C., Ekbom, A., Brandt, L., & Ekselius, L. (2009). Excess mortality, causes of death and prognostic factors in anorexia nervosa. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 194(1), 10-17.

Crow, S. J., Peterson, C. B., Swanson, S. A., Raymond, N. C., Specker, S., Eckert, E. D., & Mitchell, J. E. (2009). Increased mortality in bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry.

Mond, J. M., Hay, P. J., Rodgers, B., Owen, C., & Beumont, P. J. (2004). Beliefs of women concerning causes and risk factors for bulimia nervosa.Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 38(6), 463-469.

Avena, N. M., & Hoebel, B. G. (2003). A diet promoting sugar dependency causes behavioral cross-sensitization to a low dose of amphetamine.Neuroscience, 122(1), 17-20.

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Kendler, K. S., MacLean, C., Neale, M., Kessler, R., Heath, A., & Eaves, L. (1991). The genetic epidemiology of bulimia nervosa. Am J Psychiatry,148(12), 1627-37.

Fairburn, C. G., Wilson, G. T., & Schleimer, K. (1993). Binge eating: Nature, assessment, and treatment (pp. 317-360). New York: Guilford Press.

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Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: April 21, 2016
Last updated: April 21, 2016

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