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What are the risk factors?

Traits common to people with bulimia nervosa have led researchers to identify certain risk factors for developing the disorder. These risk factors are listed in a check list below. Issues about body shape and size can arise especially during physical developmental phases when bodies change rapidly. For example, girls who enter puberty early may be uncomfortable about changes in their body size and shape because of rapid weight gain and sexual maturation that occur sooner than their peers. Women in middle age approaching menopause may also experience body shape changes, along with changes in family and social roles as children grow into adulthood and leave home. Major life role and body changes can lead to stress. Such stresses may contribute to development of bulimia nervosa in people with additional risk factors for the disorder.

Risk factors for developing bulimia nervosa

  • Genetics (or family history of eating disorders)
  • Past physical or sexual abuse
  • Early onset of menstruation
  • Past weight issues
  • Body image (shape and size) issues
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Perfectionism
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • History of substance abuse


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Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person engages in binge eating (eating a lot of food in a short time) followed by some type of behavior to prevent weight gain from the food that was eaten. This behavior can take two forms: self-induced vomiting, misuse of enemas, laxatives, diet pills (called purging) and excessive exercise, fasting, or diabetic omission of insulin (called non-purging). Some people with bulimia nervosa may also starve themselves for periods of time before binge eating again. Bulimia nervosa has important mental, emotional, and physical aspects that require consideration during treatment.

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