Bulimia Nervosa in Children

What is bulimia nervosa in children?

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder. It’s also called bulimia. A child with bulimia overeats or binges uncontrollably. This overeating may be followed by self-induced throwing up (purging).

A child who binges eats much larger amounts of food than would normally be eaten within a short period of time (often less than 2 hours). The binges happen at least twice a week for 3 months. They may happen as often as several times a day.

Bulimia has two types:

  • Purging type. A child with this type regularly binges and then causes himself or herself to throw up. Or the child may misuse laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medicines that clear the bowels.
  • Nonpurging type. Instead of purging after binging, a child with this type uses other inappropriate behaviors to control weight. He or she may fast or exercise too much.

What causes bulimia nervosa in a child?

Researchers don’t know what causes bulimia. Some things that may lead to it are:

  • Cultural ideals and social attitudes about body appearance
  • Self-evaluation based on body weight and shape
  • Family problems

Which children are at risk for bulimia nervosa?

Most children with bulimia are girls in their teens. They tend to be from a high socioeconomic group. They may have other mental health problems, such as an anxiety or mood disorders.

Children with bulimia are more likely to come from families with a history of:

  • Eating disorders
  • Physical illness
  • Other mental health problems, such as mood disorders or substance abuse

What are the symptoms of bulimia nervosa in a child?

Each child may have different symptoms. But the most common symptoms of bulimia are:

  • Usually a normal or low body weight but sees him or herself as weighing too much
  • Repeated episodes of binge eating, often in secret
  • Fear of not being able to stop eating while bingeing
  • Self-induced throwing up, often in secret
  • Excessive exercise or fasting
  • Strange eating habits or rituals
  • Improper use of laxatives, diuretics, or other medicines to clear the bowels
  • In girls, irregular periods, or no period at all
  • Anxiety
  • Discouragement because he or she is not satisfied with his or her appearance
  • Depression
  • Obsession with food, weight, and body shape
  • Scarring on the back of the fingers from self-induced throwing up
  • Overachieving behaviors

The symptoms of bulimia nervosa may look like other health problems. Make your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is bulimia nervosa diagnosed in a child?

Parents, teachers, and coaches may be able to spot a child with bulimia. But many children with it first keep their illness hidden. If you notice symptoms of bulimia in your child, you can help by seeking a diagnosis and treatment early. Early treatment can often prevent future problems.

A child psychiatrist or a mental health expert can diagnose bulimia. He or she will talk with you, your partner, and teachers about your child’s behavior. Your child may need psychological testing.