Know the basics
What is bulimia?
Bulimia, also known as bulimia nervosa, is an eating disorder that causes regular episodes of uncontrollable eating (binging). This causes people to use extreme measures to get rid of consumed foods and prevent weight gain. These methods may include the use of laxatives or self-induced vomiting. Many people who have bulimia may suffer from having anorexia nervosa.
How common is bulimia?
Bulimia more commonly affects more women than men. It is also more common in teenage girls and young women. Please consult your doctor if you suspect you or your loved one is suffering from bulimia.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of bulimia?
The common signs and symptoms of bulimia are: eating binges several times a day for many months. The person often eats large amounts of high-calorie foods, usually in secret. During these episodes, the person feels a lack of control over the eating.
Binges lead to self-disgust, which causes purging to prevent weight gain. Purging may include:
- Forcing oneself to vomit;
- Excessive exercise;
- Using laxatives, enemas, or diuretics (water pills);
- Purging often brings a sense of relief.
People with bulimia are often at a normal weight, but they may see themselves as being overweight. Because the person’s weight is often normal, other people may not notice this eating disorder.
Symptoms that other people can see include:
- Spending a lot of time exercising;
- Suddenly eating large amounts of food or buying large amounts of food that disappear right away;
- Regularly going to the bathroom right after meals;
- Throwing away packages of laxatives, diet pills, emetics (drugs that cause vomiting), or diuretics.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
It is important to let your doctor know if you or anyone you know has signs of bulimia. Most people with bulimia may not admit they have a problem. They may resist therapy but it’s important to remind them bulimia can lead to harmful effects to the body.
Know the causes
What causes bulimia?
The exact case of bulimia is unknown. Usually a person who has a low-self-esteem will be more at risk for bulimia. Genetic, psychological, family society or cultural factors may play a role. Bulimia is likely caused by one or more factors.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for bulimia?
There are many risk factors for bulimia, such as:
- Poor body image: There are social factors that influence the perception of beauty and success. This may cause poor body image.
- Low self-esteem: Having a low self-esteem can lead to depression, low self-worth and perfectionism. These will increase risks for bulimia.
- History of trauma or abuse: Studies have shown that most women who have bulimia have history of sexual abuse.
- Other mental disorders: Are there any mental problems, inability to control anger, depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder;
- Appearance-focused professions or activities: This includes professions that have high pressure to be thin. This includes being an actress, a model and a dancer. This also may include athletes that need to maintain a certain weight.
- Major life changes: Usually a major life change can cause high stress that can trigger bulimia. These life changes may include puberty, going to college, or a relationship breakup.
Not having a risk factor does not mean you cannot get affected with bulimia. You should consult a specialist doctor for more details.
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is bulimia diagnosed?
To give a proper diagnosis, your doctor may perform the following tests:
- Review your medical history;
- Physical exam;
- Evaluate your emotional condition;
- Blood tests to determine any nutritional deficiencies or electrolyte imbalances;
- Dental exam, which may show cavities or gingivitis, caused acid found in vomit.
How is bulimia treated?
Treatment options for bulimia depend on the severity of the condition. To ensure the success of the treatment, people with bulimia must first admit they have a problem and need help. Treatment options may include the following:
- Support groups may be helpful for mild cases with no complications.
- Counseling such as talk therapy and nutritional therapy is needed for people who do not respond well with just support groups.
- Drug therapy may include antidepressants such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. Drug therapy in combination with talk therapy can be very effective.
- Hospitalization is usually needed if a person has anorexia, major depression or needs drugs to stop vomiting.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage bulimia?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with bulimia:
- Attend support groups. These groups can help you deal with your stresses and manage your urge to over-eat or vomit.
- Follow your treatment plan instructed by your doctor;
- Get the right nutrition. You might be lacking the important nutrients and vitamins. Talk to your nutritionist or doctor for what you need.
- Always talk to you doctor or counselor what is on your mind;
- Eat regular meals;
- Find ways to reduce your stress;
- Be kind to yourself. You need to be comfortable with your body and love yourself.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017
Ferri, Fred. Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders / Elsevier, 2012. Download version.
Bulimia nervosa. National Alliance on Mental Illness. http://www2.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=By_Illness&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=7638. Assessed July 13, 2016.
Bulima. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000341.htm Assessed July 13, 2016.
Bulimia Nervosa. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/eating-disorders/bulimia-nervosa.htm#what. Assessed July 13, 2016.