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What is Bulimia?

Here's what you need to know about the eating disorder


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health


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Bulimia, or Bulimia Nervosais most common in men and women aged between 14 and 25, but can affect anyone of any age. People with bulimia binge eat (eating a lot of food in one go) and then feel guilty or try to compensate for the binge.

You might feel you need to get rid of the food immediately by vomiting up the food or by using laxatives, diuretics or other medication to purge the food. Or you might also starve after a binge or use heavy exercise to burn off the calories.

If you have bulimia, you’re probably a normal weight or your weight goes up and down. This makes bulimia less noticeable than anorexia and it can go untreated for longer. Many people with bulimia try to hide the illness because of guilt or shame.

  • People with bulimia use control of food as a way to cope with emotional difficulties and stress.
  • You might become obsessed with your weight and what you eat.
  • Most people get bulimia in their late teens or early twenties. Sometimes it happens because you think that bulimia helps to diet or it might be because of low self-esteem, feeling down or a lack of self-confidence.
  • Sometimes people who suffered from anorexia go on to get bulimia.

Binge eating explained:

  • If binge eating is out of control you might eat two or three times the normal amount of food. Maybe you eat things like food you already threw out, half frozen food or uncooked food. At the end of the binge you start feeling guilty or ashamed of your eating. Vomiting or taking laxatives is used to fight against the guilt.
  • How often you binge eat is different for everyone, maybe it only happens once every few months or if you have a serious problem with bulimia, maybe you binge and get rid of the food again several times a day.

What happens if I have bulimia?

  • Bulimia can make you think about food all the time or feel trapped by unhealthy eating habits.
  • Vomiting regularly will cause tooth decay, bad breath, choking and throat problems.
  • You might find yourself eating huge amounts of food at one time.
  • Glands in your throat might swell, making your face rounder.
  • You might have spots or bad skin and hair loss is possible.
  • Periods can become irregular.
  • You might feel tired, emotional and have mood swings.
  • You might suffer from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, shame or guilty feelings.
  • You might feel very alone and unable to stop the eating disorder.
  • You can become run-down and have dangerously low levels of essential minerals in the body. If you or someone you know makes themselves sick then, get your bloods checked regularly especially your potassium levels.
  • There is an increased risk of heart problems or stomach or bowel problems. In extreme cases, bulimia can cause death due to heart failure.

What is the treatment for bulimia?


Whether you are concerned about yourself or someone else, it is best to seek advice from your doctor. The aim of treatment is to help the individual gain control over eating such that there is a return to eating regular meals without engaging in vomiting or bingeing.

A particular type of psychological intervention known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is often used in order to help the individual change his/her faulty way of thinking.

Whether you are concerned about yourself or someone else, it is best to seek advice from your family doctor. Your doctor may decide that specialist help is necessary and you may be referred to a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

You may want to contact Bodywhys for advice or information. They also have support groups around the country, a helpline, and an online support group.

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Published December 20th, 2012
Last updated February 7th, 2017
Tags bulimia eating disorder body image
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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