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WHAT IS BULIMIA NERVOSA?

Bulimia nervosa is one of the most common eating disorders. It manifests itself as eating large amounts of food all in one sitting, known as bingeing. This often takes place as a comforting factor to ease anxiety or upset.

Eating all that food, however nice it might feel at the time, won't bring those with bulimia nervosa pleasure. In fact once it has been eaten, they will feel guilty and they will do their best to get rid of it a process called purging.

There are two types of purging when it comes to bulimia:

  • Purging bulimia can occur through forced vomiting or the use of laxatives or other medication. Purging can also take place after eating only a small amount of food.
  • Nonpurging bulimia is another way of purging your system, but this time it will be done by self-starvation (fasting), strict dieting or excessive exercise, but they can overlap.

Living with bulimia will mean that the person comes preoccupied with their weight and the shape of their body. They will often be their own worst critic and judge themselves overly harshly when it comes to how they look (or how they believe they look).

Like many eating disorders, this kind of practice is often done in secret or as inconspicuously as possible. After the bingeing process, many bulimics will feel ashamed and guilty. The purging also acts as a way to relieve these symptoms. This constant cycle is very detrimental to both your physical and mental health.

THE SYMPTOMS

Due to the cyclical bingeing and purging, it's not unusual for those with bulimia to appear physically 'normal'. They will often maintain a relatively normal weight (for their age and height), so the condition may go unnoticed for some time. Symptoms can include:

  • Loss of control over your eating habits.
  • The fear of gaining weight or appearing 'fat'.
  • Fascinated with dieting and cookery books.
  • Eating much more food in one sitting than is normal.
  • The misuse of laxatives, enemas or diuretics.
  • Using dietary supplements particularly those concerned with weight loss.
  • Following overly strict diets.
  • Excessive exercise regimes.
  • Damage to your teeth and gums.

The lack of a balanced diet means that people with bulimia will feel tired, constipated, bloated and, in the case of women, have irregular periods. Moving swiftly on!

WHAT CAUSES BULIMIA NERVOSA?

It's impossible to say what causes bulimia, but it generally starts to develop when you're a teenager, but can happen later. It generally develops later than anorexia. It is certainly more common in women, but absolutely can affect men too. If you have a history of anorexia, then you can go on to develop bulimia in later years.

Everyone is different, but society's obsession with body image and looks can play a part as the pressure to confirm is strong. You may think men are immune from this, but the drive towards physical perfection can affect guys as well as women.

Some people develop bulimia as a way of punishing themselves, through this form of self-harm driven often by low self-esteem.

If forced vomiting is part of your purging routine, the acid that exists in the vomit can attack your teeth causing dental problems later on. The temptation, after vomiting, is to brush your teeth but this should be avoided. If you are doing this, you should at least try a non-acidic mouthwash instead, and seek help.

WHAT TREATMENTS ARE AVAILABLE?

Bulimia is rarely about the food or even the purging. It is often related to a person's self-image and, as such, becomes very hard to overcome but it can be done.

A course of psychotherapy works well as does several self-help techniques. If left untreated, bulimia can be life-threatening.


If you live with (or have had) bulimia, there may be some organisations on our Where To Turn pages that can help you. If not, and you know of one, please let us know and we'll look into it.

Also, if you'd like to share your experiences of living with the condition with our community, please take a look at our 'Men Tell' section.