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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Lott

What Is Bulimia?

World Eating Disorders Awareness Week

What is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia Nervosa is a serious psychiatric illness characterised by recurrent binge-eating episodes (the consumption of abnormally large amounts of food in a relatively short period of time). Binge episodes are associated with a sense of loss of control and immediately followed by feelings of guilt and shame, which then leads engaging in compensatory behaviours such as self-induced vomiting, fasting, overexercising and/or the misuse of laxatives, enemas or diuretics.

A person with Bulimia usually maintains an average weight, or may be slightly above or below average weight for their height, which often makes it less recognisable than serious cases of Anorexia. Many people, including many health professionals, incorrectly assume that a person must be underweight and thin to have an Eating Disorder. Because of this, Bulimia is often missed and can go undetected for a long period of time.

Bulimia is thought to often start with dieting for weight loss. The resulting food deprivation and inadequate nutrition can trigger what is, in effect, a starvation reaction - an overriding urge to eat. Once the person gives in to this urge, the desire to eat is uncontrollable, leading to a substantial binge on whatever food is available (often foods with high fat and sugar content), followed by compensatory behaviours. A repeat of weight-loss dieting often follows, leading to a binge/purge/exercise cycle which becomes more compulsive and uncontrollable over time.

Warning Signs and Effects of Bulimia

  • Difficulties with activities which involve food

  • Loneliness due to self-imposed isolation and a reluctance to develop personal relationships

  • Deceptive behaviours relating to food

  • Fear of the disapproval of others if the illness becomes known

  • Mood swings, changes in personality, emotional outbursts or depression

  • Self harm, substance abuse or suicide attempts

  • Sensitivity to references about weight or appearance

  • Guilt, self disgust, self loathing

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Frequent trips to the bathroom, especially after eating

  • Food avoidance, dieting behaviour. This may be due to a fear of gaining weight and it may also be to avoid the unpleasant ritual of purging afterwards.

  • Fluctuations in weight

  • Erratic behaviour

  • Mood swings

Physical Signs and Effects of Bulimia

Recovery and Treatment

Full recovery from Bulimia is possible. Often people live with bulimia for many years before it is detected or they seek help, which can make the cycle harder to break, so early treatment is particularly effective.

If you recognise the signs of Bulimia in yourself or someone you know, it's best to seek professional help as soon as possible. Contact your GP, CAMHS or email

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