Are Eating Disorders Genetic?

December 29, 2023

A woman with her hands to her head as she thinks about the struggles of a Genetic eating disorder

Bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder are the main eating disorders experienced by U.S. adults. For anyone wondering are eating disorders genetic, this guide explores the root causes of disordered eating and shows you how to connect with evidence-based care.

Are Eating Disorders Genetic or Environmental?

Are eating disorders hereditary, then? Genetic and environmental factors that cause eating disorders can be interrelated.

Anorexia nervosa has been extensively studied in terms of genetics. There is a marked hereditary influence with shared genetic abnormalities increasing the chance of someone developing an eating disorder. Individuals born into families with a history of anorexia are significantly more predisposed to developing the condition.

Research has pinpointed the following abnormalities in genetic factors that may lead to the development of eating disorders:

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  • Cholesterol production
  • BMI (body mass index)
  • Obesity
  • Fasting insulin
  • Fasting glucose

The genetic aspects of bulimia and binge eating disorders are less explored, though. A small study uncovered a shared genetic risk factor in individuals with binge eating disorder, hinting at a potential genetic contribution, but more research is required to flesh out these findings.

A woman looks on in deep thought about the Biological causes of anorexia

Genetic Influences on Eating Disorders

The interplay between genetic and environmental factors in the development of eating disorders is an ongoing area of study. 

Genetic studies have illuminated the hereditary nature of anorexia, revealing a common set of genetic abnormalities that contribute to the disorder’s manifestation.

Studies on bulimia and binge eating disorders, on the other hand, are fairly limited. Some research suggests a shared genetic risk factor in people with binge eating disorder, indicating a potential genetic contribution to its development. 

Anorexia is the most extensively studied eating disorder in the field of genetics. The hereditary nature of anorexia is apparent: those born into families with a history of the disorder are 11 times more likely to develop it, showing that anorexia is an eating disorder that’s rooted in both mental health and metabolism.

Some researchers feel that gene mutations may cause some people to restrict food (potentially triggering anorexia) or indulge on food (potentially triggering bulimia or binge eating disorder).

In 2003, groundbreaking research identified three candidate genes associated with appetite, anxiety, and depression, providing crucial insights into the genetic roots of anorexia. Another more recent and extensive study identified the locations of eight genes that may contribute to the development of anorexia. These genes, along with others identified by researchers, play a role in signaling the brain’s appetite. Disruptions or blockages in these appetite pathways can influence an individual’s perception of hunger.

These same regions are also associated with other health issues like anxiety and depression. The connection between these psychological conditions and the development of anorexia or other eating disorders remains unclear, though. Some studies have established links between certain genes and the onset of various metabolic conditions, including type 2 diabetes.

So, researchers posit that numerous genes within your chromosomes significantly contribute to the development of eating disorders. The understanding of how these genes impact the risk of anorexia and other conditions is still in its early stages, though.

Causes of Eating Disorders

This is no single cause of eating disorders. Rather, disordered eating stems from a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors, creating a complex web of causation. Genetic predispositions – as evidenced in anorexia – play a crucial role, with shared abnormalities influencing susceptibility. The environment also have a significant function, impacting individuals differently based on factors such as societal pressures, family dynamics, and cultural influences.

In anorexia nervosa, individuals born into families with a history of the disorder are more vulnerable to developing the condition, highlight the strong genetic connection. Research pinpoints abnormalities in genetic factors linked to cholesterol production, body mass index, obesity, fasting insulin, and fasting glucose, contributing to the intricate genetic roots of anorexia.

The causes of bulimia and binge eating disorders, on the other hand, are also multifaceted but less explored. Limited studies have identified a shared genetic risk factor in individuals with binge eating disorder, suggesting a potential genetic contribution. Environmental factors such as societal beauty standards, body image issues, and emotional stressors also contribute significantly.

The intricate causes of eating disorders necessitate ongoing research efforts to unravel the dynamic interplay between genetic predisposition, environmental influences, and psychological factors. Understanding these causes is vital for developing effective prevention and treatment strategies, recognizing the multifaceted nature of these complex conditions.


Can you be born with an eating disorder?

While individuals aren’t born with eating disorders, genetic and environmental factors can contribute to their development. Genetic predispositions, combined with other influences, may increase the risk of developing an eating disorder later in life.

Do eating disorders run in families?

Yes, there is evidence to suggest that eating disorders can run in families. Genetic factors play a role, and environmental influences within a family, such as shared attitudes toward body image, dieting, and weight, can contribute to the development of eating disorders.

Is anorexia genetic?

There is a genetic component to anorexia, as research indicates a higher likelihood of developing the disorder if a close family member has had it. However, genetic factors alone do not determine the onset of anorexia, and environmental influences also play a significant role.

Is bulimia genetic?

Similar to anorexia, there is a genetic component to bulimia. Studies suggest a hereditary link, and individuals with a family history of bulimia may be at a higher risk. However, environmental factors, societal pressures, and personal experiences also contribute to the development of bulimia.

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Get Treatment for Eating Disorders at Connections

Engaging with compassionate and science-based mental health treatment can help anyone grappling with psychological issues to improve well-being and enhance functioning. We can help you achieve this at Connections Mental Health in Southern California.

We admit no more than six people at any one time to participate in treatment. This ensures that you get the personalized mental health treatment you need, and also enables you to take advantage of powerful peer support.

When you choose to take action and address eating disorders or any other mental health condition, expert staff will guide you through a structured treatment program that may include talk therapies, motivational therapies, counseling, medications, and holistic interventions. Call the friendly team at 844-413-0009 and discover how to start addressing disordered eating in California.

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