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.

Here, you can find out everything you wanted to know about bulimia nervosa (or at least we hope so!). You can click (or touch) each of the headings below to find out more about specific aspects of the condition.

We hope you find the information useful and if you do, please feel free to share it. If there’s anything you feel needs adding or looking at, let us know that too.

WHAT IS BULIMIA NERVOSA? . . .

We all like to eat food right? It's nice, but when it comes to bulimia, 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.

WHAT CAUSES BULIMIA? . . .

Here's the part where we would like to put a definitive reason why 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.

OK, BUT DO MEN GET IT? . . .

They do, but given how synonymous PTSD is with the military, you'd think that the gender differences would be massively stacked towards men, but you'd be wrong. Whilst it's true that those in the forces are predominately men and what they experience must be horrendous, the prevalence of PTSD in men is 'only' around 5-6% compared with around 10-12% in women. Women are 2-3x more likely to develop PTSD than men.

Men and women tend to be exposed to different types of trauma and it affects different areas of the brain and at different ages. It was thought that women experience more trauma than men, but research showed just the opposite. Women report trauma about a third less than blokes, but this means they are at a higher risk of developing PTSD.

Women are more likely to be victims of high-impact sexual trauma than men, and at a younger age. They also experience more incidents of sexual abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault, whilst men are more likely to experience trauma in combat and accidents (natural disasters and human error).

Women handle stressful situations differently than men and have evolved differentially to support those differing behaviours. This includes the perception of a threat and something called 'peritraumatic dissocciation'. In essence, this means that, at the time of a traumatic experience, how much dissociation to the event a person feels. In other words, the brain will offer protection by emotionally distancing itself from what's happened, either through out-of-body experience (like it's happening to someone else), emotional numbness (so you don't feel anything), amnesia (blocking it out) or depersonalisation (the thought that it's not happening to a real person).

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF BULIMIA NERVOSA? . . .

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 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.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP SOMEONE WITH PTSD? . . .

When you have PTSD, it's a roller-coaster of emotions, for those living with it and for those around them. Feelings can be overwhelming and those with PTSD can isolate themselves, becoming distant and 'moody'. If they know you're there for them, this can make a world of difference.

Having PTSD can make someone short-tempered, angry, bad tempered and living in state of constant alert that they just can't switch off, as much as they'd like to. It's important to give them social support. This might means, doing 'normal' stuff with them, letting them take the lead in what to do or where to go. You will need to be patient for sure.

As with many illness, but particularly with PTSD, there will be triggers that are personal to them. It's important that you know what they are and how to manage them. Read their signs, understand their emotions and be there for them.


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.