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Fact Sheet

Bulimia Nervosa

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What is bulimia?

Bulimia Nervosa is a type of eating disorder. People diagnosed with an eating disorder usually have distorted views of body image creating extreme disturbances in their eating behavior.

People experiencing bulimia regularly binge eat. Binge eating involves consuming large amounts of food in relatively discrete periods of time while feelings out of control when taking in food. Binge eating is also usually followed by feelings of guilt and anxiety about becoming fat, which results in the desire and need to get rid of the food. Bulimia Nervosa is similar to binge eating, but people with bulimia get rid of their food after they binge eat. Some common ways people with bulimia get rid of their food include:

  • Excessive exercising to burn calories
  • Throwing up
  • Taking laxatives, diuretics or diet pills
  • Not eating for several days after the binge

Symptoms of bulimia

Some of the common signs of bulimia include:

  • Eating unusually large amounts of food
  • Being secretive about what is eaten and when
  • Visiting the bathroom after eating
  • Over exercising
  • Being very self critical
  • Moodiness
  • Depression
  • Regularly tired/lacking energy
  • Sore throat
  • Decaying teeth

If you are experiencing a number of these signs, it may be helpful to go and talk with someone you trust like a family member, teacher, counselor or local doctor. If you need help finding someone to talk to, check out the Get Help section of ReachOut.

What causes bulimia?

Like other eating disorders, bulimia is a combination of physical and mental health difficulties; the cause is not clear. However, a number of factors may be associated with bulimia. These may include:

  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Cultural emphasis on slimness
  • Preoccupation with body image ideals
  • Difficult or tension-filled relationships with friends or family
  • Loss and grief
  • Brain chemistry
  • Physiological and psychological effects of dieting
  • Stressful events
  • Difficulty with coping

Suggestions for Treatment

The reasons that people experience bulimia may differ from person to person and the options for treatment may also differ depending on the situation and person. Whatever the reason, if you think you have bullemia, know that you deserve help and support. You can talk to your local doctor about what treatment options are available and which may be best for you. If necessary, your doctor can also refer you to a mental health professional and a nutritionist. These professionals will talk with you about your food, weight beliefs, behaviors, and explore reasons why you may have developed these beliefs and behaviors. This can be done in a group situation or in a one on one situation. It is a good idea to talk with your doctor or therapist as to which is the best option for you.
If you have a friend, loved one, or know someone who is suffering from bulimia, visit the Worried about someone having an eating disorder fact sheet.

For more information, check out the National Eating Disorders Association and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Last edited by Kristie - March 2014.

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