Bulimia nervosa, commonly called bulimia, is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder. Those with bulimia eat excessive amounts of food, then rid their bodies of the food by vomiting, using laxatives, or over-exercising. They often fear gaining weight, want desperately to lose weight, and are intensely unhappy with their body size and shape. If you or someone you know is suffering from bulimia, understanding more about it can help you cope.
This section contains information about what bulimia is, its symptoms, and how it can be diagnosed. Because bulimia is related to self-image and is not just about food, it can be difficult to overcome. With effective treatment, it’s possible for a person with bulimia to rebuild his or her self-image, adopt healthier eating patterns and reverse serious health complications.
For those who suspect a friend or family member has bulimia, it can be tough to know what to do. The Tips for Helping Someone With Bulimia page can give you some guidance to help you support your loved one.
Warning signs and symptoms of bulimia include:
According to the OOffice on Women’s Health , many people with bulimia are also battling with other mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety or substance abuse problems.
The chance for recovery increases the earlier bulimia nervosa is detected. Therefore, if you or a loved one is suffering from bulimia, seek professional help right away.
Bulimia nervosa, commonly called bulimia, is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder. Those with bulimia eat excessive amounts of food, then rid their bodies of the food by vomiting, using laxatives, or over-exercising. Often acting in secrecy, they feel guilty as they binge, yet relieved of those negative emotions once their stomachs are empty again. This cycle usually repeats several times a week.
Bulimia can be categorised in two ways:
Many physical conditions result from the purging aspect of the illness, including electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, and oral and tooth-related problems.
Unlike anorexia, people with bulimia can fall within the normal range for their age and weight. But like people with anorexia, they often fear gaining weight, want desperately to lose weight, and are intensely unhappy with their body size and shape. Because it's related to self-image and is not just about food, bulimia can be difficult to overcome. But effective treatment can help someone with bulimia improve their self-image, adopt healthier eating patterns and reverse serious complications.
There is no single known cause of bulimia, but there are some factors that play a major part. Many people with eating disorders suffer from low self-esteem, feelings of helplessness, and intense dissatisfaction with the way they look. In most cases, people with bulimia also have trouble managing emotions in a healthy way therefore turn to bingeing and purging when feeling angry, depressed, stressed, or anxious. Life experiences may also trigger eating disorders. This can include being bullied about the way they look, or experiencing traumas such as rape or the death of a loved one.
As with all eating disorders, women are much more likely to develop bulimia than men. However, it is becoming increasingly common in boys and men also. According to the National Health Service , bulimia can occur at any age but mainly affects women aged between 16 and 40. Bulimia nervosa can affect children, but this is extremely rare.
If you have symptoms of bulimia and are concerned that you may have an eating disorder, the first step is to recognise that you may have a problem and visit your doctor. During your appointment, your doctor will typically perform:
While there is no international guideline for diagnosing bulimia, these tests help doctors determine if you have bulimia or another eating disorder, such as anorexia or binge eating disorder. At this point, your doctor will also decide whether to refer you for help from a specialist mental health team. This could include specialist counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, dietitians and other healthcare professionals.
The course of your treatment depends on how serious your condition is and the best way to manage it. Your doctor may even recommend a self-help program to start your recovery before referring you for specialist treatment.
Someone with bulimia can get better by learning healthy eating patterns and how to cope with their thoughts and feelings. Treatment for bulimia uses a combination of options, which include psychotherapy, nutritional advice and medications.
Recovery usually takes place slowly over a few months or many years. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists , evidence suggests that a combination of medication and psychotherapy is the most effective way to overcome this disorder.
It can be tough to know what to do if you suspect a friend or family member has bulimia. The best thing you can do is to talk to the person about your concerns, as bulimia has serious physical and emotional consequences and should never be ignored. While your loved one may get defensive and deny bingeing and purging, there’s a chance that he or she will welcome the opportunity to open up about the struggle. Here are some suggestions for supporting your loved one: