Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder and mental health condition.
People who have bulimia try to control their weight by severely restricting the amount of food they eat, then binge eating and purging the food from their body by making themselves vomit or using laxatives.
As with other eating disorders, bulimia nervosa can be associated with:
Learn more about the causes of bulimia nervosa.
Binge eating and purging
Eating disorders are often associated with an abnormal attitude towards food or body image.
Everyone has their own eating habits – for example, people with a food intolerance need to avoid eating certain foods to stay healthy. However, people suffering from eating disorders tend to use their eating habits and behaviours to cope with emotional distress, and often have an abnormal or unrealistic fear of food, calories and being fat.
Because of this fear, people with bulimia nervosa tend to restrict their food intake. This results in periods of excessive eating and loss of control (binge eating), after which they make themselves vomit or use laxatives (purging). They purge themselves because they fear that the binging will cause them to gain weight, and usually feel guilty and ashamed of their behaviour. This is why these behaviours are usually done in secret.
Such binge-purge cycles can be triggered by hunger or stress, or are a way to cope with emotional anxiety.
Signs of bulimia nervosa include an obsessive attitude towards food and eating, an overcritical attitude to their weight and shape, and frequent visits to the bathroom after eating, after which the person might appear flushed and have scarred knuckles (from forcing fingers down the throat to bring on vomiting).
Read more about the symptoms and warning signs of bulimia.
Bulimia can eventually lead to physical problems associated with poor nutrient intake, excessive vomiting or overuse of laxatives. Read more about these complications of bulimia.
Who is affected by bulimia nervosa?
As with all eating disorders, women are much more likely to develop bulimia than men.
However, bulimia nervosa is becoming increasingly common in boys and men. There are an estimated 1.6 million Britons suffering from some form of eating disorder, and reports estimate that up to 25% may be male.
Recent studies suggest that as many as 8% of women have bulimia at some stage in their life. The condition can occur at any age, but mainly affects women aged between 16 and 40 (on average, it starts around the age of 18 or 19).
Bulimia nervosa can affect children, but this is extremely rare.
The above information was sourced from: