A Familial Connection: Are Eating Disorders Genetic?


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If you suffer from an eating disorder, you might often ask yourself, “Why me?”

Maybe you’re dealing with societal pressures to look a certain way? Perhaps your upbringing encouraged unhealthy eating habits? These factors could certainly play a role.

But research also points to a strong genetic link for people with anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. Understanding the familial connection can serve to answer the question of how you got where you are today and maybe even help you find your way out.

What The Research Tells Us

While we used to wonder about the cause of eating disorders, studies are beginning to give us greater insight and understanding. For starters, we now see that a person with an eating disorder can find a familial connection as often as someone with schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, or OCD. (1)

For a more specific example, let’s look at anorexia in particular. The average person has about a 0.5% chance of becoming anorexic. But if a close relative is anorexic, that number jumps to nearly 6%—11 times more likely than the general population. (2) A similar study found an up-to-12-fold increase in bulimia patients with a familial connection. (3)

And lest we think it’s all in how the family raises an individual, researchers tested this theory on twins. They found that identical twins maintained a stronger genetic link to eating disorders than fraternal twins. (3)

The Makeup Needed for an Eating Disorder Can Be Found in DNA

While eating disorders certainly get the strength they need to activate from outside forces, they often begin within. Deep within. We’re talking at a chromosomal level.

Researchers identified two specific gene alterations that put a person at risk for developing an eating disorder. The first helps to regulate mood. And the second regulates appetite. You can imagine what might happen when these two genes don’t work as they should.

These two markers represent a real risk for the development of anorexia. (2) And it makes sense, right? We’re talking about a struggle to control mood and appetite happening at the biological level. That’s not something you can simply turn off or on with a switch.

Knowledge Really is Power

Our hope, of course, is that if you or someone you love suffers from an eating disorder, you can read this article with a big sigh of relief. Odds are, you’re not the cause of your suffering.

And the even better news? There’s help available to you.

After all, a big part of recovery is understanding why you’re struggling and what triggers disordered behavior. Recognizing a genetic link can help you take the first big step toward healing.

It’s also our hope that this knowledge will encourage you to look out for your children and other close relatives—being aware of any signs that point toward an eating disorder and taking action to help when needed.

Of course, we’re always here to help as well. You can give us a call at 765.819.2524anytime. We’d love to help you develop strategies to combat genetic and environmental influences.



  1. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/anorexia-nervosa/features/anorexia-bulimia-genetic-code
  2. https://www.science.org/content/article/how-eating-disorders-are-inherited
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010958/


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