Bulimia Nervosa

What is bulimia?

Bulimia is an eating disorder. It
is marked by uncontrolled episodes of overeating, called bingeing. This is followed by
purging with methods such as vomiting or misuse of laxatives. Bingeing is eating much
larger amounts of food than you would normally eat in a short period of time, often less
than 2 hours. You may feel like you can’t stop or control these episodes of

The binge-purge cycles can happen from many times a day to several times a week.

Often people with bulimia have a
normal or above normal body weight. This lets them hide their problem for years. Many
people with bulimia don’t get help until they reach ages 30 to 50. By this time, their
eating behavior is deeply rooted and harder to change.

There are 2 ways people with
bulimia restrict calories:

  • Purging type. The person engages in self-induced vomiting or misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas, or other medicines that clear the intestines.
  • Nonpurging type. The person uses other behaviors, such as fasting or excessive exercise, rather than purging behaviors.

What causes bulimia?

Experts don’t know what causes bulimia. Society and cultural ideals
that value certain body weights and shapes play a role. There is also a genetic link as
eating disorders tend to run in families.

Who is at risk for bulimia?

Bulimia most often affects females and starts during the teen years.
But it can also affect males. People with bulimia are more likely to come from families
with a history of eating disorders, physical illness, and other mental health problems.
Other illnesses are also common in people with bulimia. These include substance abuse,
anxiety disorders, and mood disorders.

What are the symptoms of bulimia?

These are the most common symptoms of bulimia: 

  • Often a normal or above average body weight
  • Repeated episodes of binge eating and fear of not being able to stop eating
  • Self-induced vomiting (often in secret)
  • Excessive exercise
  • Excessive fasting
  • Odd eating habits or rituals
  • Incorrect use of laxatives or diuretics
  • Irregular menstrual periods or no periods at all
  • Anxiety
  • Discouraged feelings linked to dissatisfaction with themselves and the way their body looks
  • Depression
  • Preoccupation with food, weight, and body shape
  • Throat is always inflamed or sore
  • Tiredness and less energy
  • Dental problems due to erosion of tooth enamel from vomiting

Most people with eating disorders also share certain traits including:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Fear of getting fat
  • Intense unhappiness with their body shape and size

If you have bulimia, you may binge to reduce stress and ease anxiety.

  • With binge eating comes guilt, disgust, and depression.
  • Purging brings only short-term relief.
  • You may be impulsive and more likely to take part in risky behaviors, such as alcohol and drug abuse.

The symptoms of bulimia may seem like other health problems or mental health conditions. Always talk with a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is bulimia diagnosed?

You likely keep your bingeing and
purging secret. This is so family, friends, and healthcare providers won’t know about
it. If you get help from a healthcare provider for bulimia, he or she will want to get a
detailed history of your behaviors from you, your family, parents, and others. Sometimes
psychological testing is done.

Blood tests may be done to check overall health and nutritional status.

Early treatment can often prevent future problems. Bulimia, and the malnutrition that results, can affect nearly every organ system in the body. Bulimia can be deadly. If you suspect bulimia, talk with a healthcare provider for more information.