Bulimia can occur in people of any gender and any age. Classic signs of this disorder include an intense dissatisfaction with one’s body or appearance, an obsession with thinness, and a cycle of bingeing and purging food. If you have bulimia, you may feel out of control when you eat, eat large amounts of food in a short period of time, and attempt to use various behaviors such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise or laxative abuse, to try to compensate for the binge and attempt to avoid weight gain. It’s important to know that purging is ineffective at preventing weight gain. Bulimia often results in disrupted metabolism and weight gain over time. 

This disorder is serious and life-threatening. Bulimia is treatable, and with therapy and help from your doctor, you can learn to manage your symptoms, heal your body image, and determine your triggers. Take our online self-assessment to get suggestions about getting help for yourself or a loved one living with bulimia. 

Symptoms

Bulimia may cause urges to eat unusually large amounts of food and then purge that food from your body. Bulimia may eventually also drive you to feel the need to purge any amount of food that you eat – even small amounts – to avoid weight gain. If you have bulimia, you may purge by vomiting or excessive exercise.  You may also struggle with laxative or diuretic abuse Some of the symptoms you or a loved one may experience with bulimia include:

  • An unhealthy obsession with or overvaluation of body weight and shape
  • Evidence of purging, like frequent trips to the bathroom or outside alone after meals
  • Hoarding or stealing specific foods
  • An abnormal obsession with exercise, calorie counting, food journals, or fad diets
  • Evidence of large purchases, or frequent use, of laxatives or emetics
  • Discolored, stained teeth or other dental problems, frequent pain in the cheeks and jaw
  • A chronically inflamed or a sore throat
  • Drinking large amounts of water or using lots of gum, mints, and mouthwash
  • Consistent stomach or gastrointestinal pain
  • Withdrawal or secretive behavior with friends and family
  • Creating elaborate rituals around eating or certain foods 
  • Making lifestyle changes or avoiding activities to make time for binge and purge sessions
  • Physical changes like muscle weakness, poor circulation, tiredness, dry skin, brittle hair and nails
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Electrolyte imbalances  

Causes

The exact cause of Bulimia Nervosa is unknown. A combination of genetic, hormonal, societal, and psychological factors can make you more prone to developing bulimia. Some of those factors include:

  • Body dissatisfaction or internalization of the cultural “thin ideal”
  • History of dieting/weight-loss attempts
  • A tendency toward obsessive or compulsive behavior 
  • A previous history of anxiety or depression
  • A history of trauma including sexual assault or abuse
  • Gender dysphoria or concerns about your sexuality
  • Societal or cultural pressures and expectations
  • Having other family members or friends with disordered eating patterns
  • Excessive self-criticism or low self-esteem
  • A family history of depression, anxiety, abuse, or eating disorders

Treatment

If you’re living with bulimia, you probably already know about it - most individuals with bulimia are aware that their relationship with food and their body isn't the same as what other people experience. When you’re ready to get help repairing those relationships, there are a variety of treatments available to get you on the road to wellness.

Medication: Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication can help you gain some relief from certain symptoms when used in conjunction with therapy. Speak to your doctor or counselor about which medications might help you. 

Therapy: There are many modes of therapy that can be beneficial to you as you start your recovery. Inpatient treatment, outpatient therapy, family therapy, and individual therapy are just a few of your options. It’s important to ask providers if they are using evidence-based treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), when treating your eating disorder. Learn more about our levels of care for you at Sheppard Pratt. 

Education: Learning more about bulimia, your relationship with food and your body, and what could trigger your eating disorder symptoms can help you learn when you may need extra help. Learn more about mental health conditions.

Support: Having a good support system can help you feel more confident about addressing your bulimia. Workshops, support groups, and other forms of support are available at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt.