Bulimia nervosa, commonly known as bulimia, is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, fasting, or misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas. People with bulimia typically worry excessively about their weight and body shape, and they might judge themselves severely and harshly for their perceived flaws.

These recurrent episodes of bingeing and purging can affect the person’s physical, mental, and social well-being. Binge-eating episodes are usually accompanied by a feeling of loss of control. After binge eating, individuals with bulimia will often feel guilty and ashamed, which leads them to the compensatory behaviors.


Bulimia can lead to severe medical complications like electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, gastrointestinal problems, heart issues, among others. It requires medical and psychological intervention for treatment. It’s important to understand that it’s not just a “phase” or a diet strategy, but a serious mental illness that needs professional attention.

Causes of Bulimia

The exact cause of bulimia is unknown, but there are a number of factors that may contribute. These include:

1. Biology: Some people may be genetically predisposed to developing eating disorders. Certain chemicals in the brain that control hunger, appetite, and digestion could also be imbalanced.

2. Psychological and emotional health: People with bulimia may have low self-esteem, perfectionism, impulsive behavior and troubled relationships. They may suffer from certain mood disorders like depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. They may also have been victims of trauma or abuse.

3. Sociocultural factors: Society and the media often portray an ideal body image which may contribute to one developing bulimia. Pressure and criticism from family, friends, or peers about weight or body shape can also factor in.

4. Dieting: People who diet are at higher risk of developing eating disorders. Bulimia can often begin with a dieting behavior before progressing into a full-blown eating disorder.

It is important to note that these factors don’t guarantee the development of bulimia but rather increase the risk. The specific cause of eating disorders, including bulimia, is still a topic of ongoing research.

Risk Factors of Bulimia

Bulimia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating. Here are some of the common risk factors for bulimia:

1. Biological Factors: Some people may be biologically predisposed to developing bulimia. This could be due to genetics, a chemical imbalance in the brain, or hormone imbalances.

2. Psychological Factors: People with certain psychological traits may have a higher risk of developing bulimia. This includes having low self-esteem, perfectionism, impulsivity, and problems managing stress and emotional issues.

3. Social Factors: Cultural and peer pressure, media portrayal of thinness as beautiful, or society’s emphasis on appearance can influence the development of bulimia.

4. Age and Gender: Bulimia often begins in late adolescence or early adulthood and is more common in women than men. However, bulimia does not discriminate and can affect people of any age and gender.

5. Family Influence: If a parent or sibling has had an eating disorder, it’s more likely you’ll also have an eating disorder. Also, a family environment that emphasizes thinness, physical appearance, and dieting can be a risk factor.

6. Emotional disorders: Anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder may increase the risk of bulimia.

7. Work or sports pressure: Athletes, actors, dancers, models, and others whose jobs require them to be thin are at higher risk of developing bulimia.

8. Substance abuse: People who abuse alcohol, drugs, or other substances are more likely to have bulimia.

Remember that these factors don’t guarantee someone will develop bulimia, but they can increase the risk. It’s a complex disorder that’s likely caused by various factors, including genetic, biochemical, psychological, cultural, and environmental influences. If you or someone you know are dealing with signs of bulimia, it’s important to seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia

Bulimia nervosa, often called bulimia, is a type of eating disorder where people frequently binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors such as forced vomiting, fasting, over-exercising, etc. to prevent weight gain. Here are some of the signs and symptoms of bulimia:

Physical Signs:

1. Fluctuations in weight: Unlike anorexia, people with bulimia might maintain a normal weight, or slightly overweight.
2. Stomach complaints, constipation, and other gastrointestinal problems.
3. Swelling around the salivary glands due to frequent vomiting.
4. Dental problems: Continuous vomiting causes stomach acid to wear away enamel of the teeth, leading to yellow, stained, or decaying teeth.
5. Calluses or scars on the knuckles or hands from inducing vomiting.
6. Frequent changes in eating habits, such as eating very large amounts of food.
7. Signs of dehydration (like dry skin, dark colored urine, dizziness).

Behavioral Signs:

1. Evidence of binge eating: Large amounts of food missing or empty wrappers and containers.
2. Regularly going to the bathroom right after meals.
3. Excessive exercising or obsessive calorie counting.
4. Mood swings, depression, and anxiety.
5. Withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities.

Psychological Signs:

1. Preoccupation with food, dieting, body size, and shape.
2. Feelings of guilt, disgust, or depression after overeating.
3. Having a distorted, excessively negative body image.
4. Feeling a lack of control over eating behaviors.

If someone is showing signs of bulimia, it is crucial to approach them with understanding and encourage them to seek expert help. It’s a serious illness that can have dangerous consequences if left untreated.

Diagnosis Bulimia

Bulimia nervosa, commonly referred to as bulimia, is an eating disorder that is characterized by periods of binge eating followed by purging to avoid weight gain. This purging can be done through various means including self-induced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, or excessive exercise.

Some symptoms can include a preoccupation with body shape and weight, fear of gaining weight, feelings of lack of control over eating, and self-esteem overly related to body image. There can also be physical signs such as swollen salivary glands, tooth decay from stomach acids, and dehydration or electrolyte imbalance.

The cause of bulimia isn’t clear, but it likely results from a combination of genetic, psychological, and environmental influences. It’s important to seek help if you or someone you know is suffering from bulimia because it can lead to serious health issues if left untreated. Treatment options often include psychotherapy, medications, and nutrition education.

Treatment of Bulimia

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that requires professional treatment. It’s important to remember that recovery definitely takes time and commitment, but with the right treatment, most people with bulimia can get better. The treatment may include various combinations of the following:

1. Psychotherapy (Counseling): Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective behavioral treatment for bulimia. It involves individual or group counseling sessions. These therapies focus on identifying and changing the unhealthy thoughts and behavior patterns that lead to bulimia.

2. Medication: Antidepressant medications such as fluoxetine (Prozac) might be used to help reduce binge eating and purging behaviors, minimize depression, and prevent relapse.

3. Nutrition therapy: Dietitians and nutritionists can offer meal planning and guidance on regaining healthy eating habits.

4. Support groups: Self-help groups could be a useful resource for those dealing with bulimia.

5. Hospitalization: In severe cases, to help someone who’s in danger of becoming seriously ill, hospitalization might be required.

6. Family-based treatment (FBT): This is particularly important for adolescents living with their family. It allows family members to help their loved one maintain healthy eating habits and positive behaviors.

Remember, the earlier the diagnosis and the start of treatment, the better the prognosis. Everyone is unique so treatment will be tailored to fit individual needs which will likely improve outcomes.
Also, it is absolutely crucial to reach out to professional healthcare providers for an effective treatment plan.

Medications commonly used for Bulimia

People who suffer from bulimia nervosa often require a combination of treatments including psychotherapy, nutritional education, and sometimes medication. Below are three medications commonly used:

1. Antidepressants: Bulimia is often associated with symptoms of depression, and thus, antidepressants are commonly prescribed. Amongst these, the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) Fluoxetine (Prozac) is the only FDA approved medication specifically for the treatment of bulimia. By balancing the chemicals in the brain that affect mood and emotions, these drugs can help to reduce the frequency of binge eating and purging.

2. Topiramate (Topamax): While it’s primarily an anticonvulsant used to treat seizures/epilepsy, this drug is also used to treat bulimia. The exact mechanism isn’t well-understood, but it may help by decreasing appetite, reducing impulsive behaviors, or inhibiting the brain processes that contribute to bulimia.

3. Other SSRIs: While Prozac is the only SSRI specifically approved to treat bulimia, doctors may prescribe other SSRIs off-label for bulimia. These can include medications such as Lexapro, Zoloft, and Paxil.

It’s important to note that these medications are generally most effective when combined with psychotherapy. Additionally, medication will not be suitable or effective for everyone, and it’s important to discuss any potential side effects or concerns with a healthcare provider before beginning a new medication. Every individual is unique and what works best will depend on their particular symptoms, overall health, the presence of any co-occurring mental or physical health disorders, and their personal response to medication.

Prevention of Bulimia

Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by binge eating followed by purging, usually through self-induced vomiting, laxatives, or excessive exercise. Here are some steps to help prevent bulimia:

1. Promote a Self-Esteem Culture: Encourage a healthy body image and self-esteem in your friends, family or children. Help others realize that weight is not a reflection of self-worth. Body negativity can often trigger unhealthy behaviors.

2. Teach Healthy Eating Habits: Provide information on nutritional needs and the dangers of dieting and the effects on the body, such as damage to organs. Encourage regular meals and snacks instead of dieting.

3. Identify Signs: Educate about the early signs of eating disorders, so everyone is aware and can intervene early before it escalates. Some signs include constant worry about body size, feeling the need to exercise excessively, weight fluctuations, irregular menstrual periods, constantly using laxatives or diuretics, and frequently going to the bathroom right after meals.

4. Seek Mental Health Care: High stress and pressure can contribute to disordered eating. Encourage and champion mental health care for prevention.


5. Encourage Open Communication: Create a space where feelings, concerns, issues can be discussed openly. Judgment-free communication is critical.

6. Professional Guidance: If you suspect someone you know may be struggling with bulimia, seek professional help. Eating disorders are serious health problems that can be both physically and emotionally destructive, requiring the intervention of trained mental health professionals.

7. Regular Physicals: Maintain regular check-ups with a pediatrician (in case of children), as they may notice symptoms of an eating disorder.

Remember, preventing bulimia or any eating disorder is not solely about food and weight. It’s about fostering self-esteem, confidence, healthy relationships with food, body positivity, and emotional well-being as well.

FAQ’s about Bulimia

Bulimia nervosa, often referred to simply as bulimia, is a serious and potentially life-threatening eating disorder. Here are some frequently asked questions about bulimia:

1. What is bulimia?
Bulimia nervosa is a psychological disorder characterized by binge eating followed by purging, or getting rid of the excess calories. This can mean vomiting, taking laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors.

2. What causes bulimia?
The exact cause of bulimia is not known, but it’s thought to be influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors such as emotional stress, cultural preferences for thinness, having a family history of eating disorders, etc.

3. What are the signs and symptoms of bulimia?
Signs and symptoms include a preoccupation with weight, frequent bathroom trips after meals, eating large amounts of food in short periods, anxiety about eating, forced vomiting or taking laxatives, and periods of fasting.

4. How is bulimia treated?
Professional treatment for bulimia is often necessary and may involve a combination of therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, medications (like antidepressants), and nutrition counseling.

5. What are the health risks associated with bulimia?
If left untreated, bulimia can lead to severe health problems such as heart problems, severe tooth decay and gum disease, gastrointestinal issues, kidney damage, electrolyte imbalances that can lead to stroke or heart attack, etc.

6. Can bulimia be cured?
Recovery from bulimia is possible and many people with bulimia can recover with treatment. However, bulimia can be a long-term, chronic condition that may require ongoing treatment.

7. Are men affected by bulimia?
Yes, men can also be affected by bulimia. While the disorder is more common in women, men also suffer from bulimia and often do so in silence due to the stigma associated with eating disorders in men.

8. How can I help someone with bulimia?
It’s important to approach the person in a supportive, non-judgmental manner. Encourage them to seek professional help and let them know you are there to support them throughout their recovery.

Remember, if you or someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder, it’s important to contact a healthcare provider.

Useful links

Bulimia nervosa, more commonly known simply as bulimia, is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of binge eating—consuming a lot of food in a short amount of time—followed by compensatory behaviours, such as forced vomiting, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviours. Bulimia may cause severe physical health problems and is often associated with mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

To further understand bulimia, below are some links that take you to specific articles from reputable health and medical journals:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28532966/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26169883/

Please ensure to consult with a healthcare professional for advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This information is to provide insights and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

Complications of Bulimia

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of binge eating followed by inappropriate behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, or excessive exercising. It can lead to a range of health complications, both physical and mental.

1. Physical Complications: Various physical health complications can arise due to the recurrent binge-purge cycle.

Dehydration: This can lead to severe dehydration, which may cause an electrolyte imbalance in the body. This imbalance could end up causing a stroke or heart attack.
Gastrointestinal Problems: Gastritis, esophagitis, acid reflux, and irregular bowel movements may occur due to frequent vomiting and misuse of laxatives.

Dental and Oral Problems: Constant vomiting can lead to decay, discoloration, and erosion of the teeth due to exposure to stomach acids. Gum disease and saliva gland swelling in the neck and below the jaw are other oral complications that can occur.
Hormonal Disruptions: These can lead to irregular periods or loss of menstruation in women.

2. Psychological and Emotional Complications: Bulimia nervosa is also associated with numerous psychological and emotional health issues.

Mood Disorders: Anxiety and depression are common in individuals with bulimia nervosa due to the severe emotional stress and body image pressures.
Substance Abuse: There’s a high risk that people with bulimia nervosa may misuse alcohol or drugs.
Self-esteem Issues: The struggle with body image and weight can result in poor self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness which can further exacerbate mental health issues.
Psychosocial Issues: This involves difficulties in social, familial, and professional relationships resulting from the need to keep the eating disorder a secret.

3. Mortality: In extreme cases, bulimia can be life-threatening. It puts a great strain on the heart, particularly from the effects of constant vomiting or long-term malnutrition. The misuse of certain substances, such as laxatives or diuretics, can also lead to life-threatening complications.

If you are struggling with bulimia, it’s important to seek professional help. Effective treatments are available, and full recovery is achievable.

Home remedies of Bulimia

Bulimia nervosa, a serious and potentially life-threatening eating disorder, should be treated by a healthcare professional. Although home remedies may serve as supportive practices, they should not replace professional medical treatment. Here are a few strategies that might help manage the symptoms alongside appropriate medical care:

1. Balanced Diet: Regularly eating balanced meals can help nourish the body, stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce the urge to binge eat.

2. Regular Exercise: Moderate physical activity can help improve mood and boost body image. However, it’s essential to have a balanced approach because over-exercising can be a form of purging.

3. Mindfulness and Meditation: These techniques can help improve mental wellbeing, reduce stress, and enhance body image perception.

4. Hydrate: Drink enough water to stay well-hydrated throughout the day, as dehydration can sometimes be mistaken for hunger.

5. Herbal Teas: Some herbal teas like chamomile can have a calming effect and help reduce stress and anxiety.

6. Adequate Rest: Ensuring you get enough sleep each night can help regulate your mood and combat feelings of anxiety and depression.

7. Self-care: Spend time doing things you enjoy, which can help enhance your mood and decrease feelings of stress or anxiety.

8. Peer and family support: Talking openly about your feelings and struggles with people you trust can bring relief and help you feel understood and supported.

Again, it is extremely important to seek professional help when dealing with bulimia nervosa or any eating disorder, as these conditions can have serious physical, emotional, and psychological consequences.

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Last Update: January 11, 2024