Are Eating Disorders Hereditary?

If someone in your family has an eating disorder, you may be wondering, “Are eating disorders hereditary”?

Maybe it’s you who has the eating disorder. Do you ever wonder if your son or daughter will struggle with the same issues as you do?

There’s no clear cut answer to if eating disorders are hereditary, but some research suggests that genetics do play a role in whether or not a person is at risk for developing an eating disorder. Does that mean you’re destined to become bulimic if your sister is? Or that your daughter will have anorexia if you do? Not at all. Here’s a closer look at the role of genetics and the other common risk factors for developing an eating disorder.

Are Eating Disorders Hereditary: The Research

Studies show that genetic factors do play a role in whether or not a person is at risk for developing an eating disorder. Here’s a look at the most commonly quoted statistics regarding the hereditary components of eating disorders:

* A child is 10 times more likely to suffer from an eating disorder if they have a family history of eating disorders.
* Between 58% and 76% of anorexia nervosa occurrences can be attributed to genetic factors.
* An estimated 6% of sisters of anorexic patients also have anorexia.
* Bulimia is four times more likely to occur among relatives of patients who are bulimic.
* If one identical twin has an eating disorder, the probability that the other twin will get an eating disorder is increased.
* Nearly 10% of patients with either anorexia or bulimia have a relative who also has an eating disorder.

There are several reasons why researchers believe eating disorders can be hereditary. Some research suggests that a variant in the gene for serotonin receptors is shared among families with a history of eating disorders. Serotonin is involved in many behaviors, including hunger, impulse control, depression, anxiety and perception. Other research shows that the same genetic factors that make a person more susceptible to major depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders and personality disorders also makes them more susceptible to eating disorders.

Finally, there’s no denying that children learn from their surroundings. Growing up around family members who have a negative or abnormal attitude toward food and eating significantly increases the risk that the child will also develop an eating disorder, especially if the genetic components already exist.

Other Risk Factors for Eating Disorders

Genetics are one of the many risk factors for developing an eating disorder, but they’re not the only one. Research shows that people are at risk for developing an eating disorder if:

* they have low self-esteem
* they have type A or perfectionist personalities
* they have certain personality traits, such being impulsive or obsessive
* they have an emotional disorder, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD or obsessive-compulsive disorder
* they have a history of sexual abuse
* they are prone to extremes
* they play a sport in which weight affects their performance, such as wrestlers, runners, gymnasts, cheerleaders, jockeys, etc.
* they have a profession in which thinness is encouraged, such as acting, modeling, the military, etc.
* they don’t trust themselves or others

It’s interesting to note that many of these risk factors for eating disorders also increase the risk of other addictive behaviors, such as alcoholism and drug addiction.

So what’s the bottom line? Research shows a link between genetics and eating disorders, but eating disorders aren’t 100% hereditary. If you have a history of eating disorders in your family, though, and you have any other risk factors listed above, be careful. Avoid things like dieting and extreme exercising, which can trigger your desire to increase your self-esteem and self worth through obsessively controlling your weight. And if you ever feel yourself delving into disordered eating behaviors, get help right away. Speaking with a therapist or counselor at an eating disorder treatment facility can help you identify your triggers and negative behaviors and help you maintain healthy eating habits and a healthy attitude.