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What is Bulimia?

By Garry Crystal
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

Bulimia is an eating disorder that is sometimes linked to anorexia nervosa. The medical term is bulimia nervosa, and the major symptom is binge eating followed by vomiting. The vomiting is self induced in order to purge the body of the food that has been eaten. Around 85% of cases are teenage girls, and around 10-15% of the cases are men.

A bulimic person is preoccupied with food intake. Binge eating and purging may occur regularly, or it may come in cycles. The vomiting may be achieved by pushing fingers to the back of the mouth, or the bulimic may train herself to vomit at will. This regurgitation technique may stay with the bulimic for her entire life.

Other techniques used by the bulimic to purge food include laxatives and diuretics, and excessive exercising is another tell-tale sign of the condition. Purging may occur frequently throughout the day, or it may be less frequent. Some cases are brief, but for some, the condition may persist for life.

The foods that are most often binged on during the bulimia cycle are high calorie, sugary foods. The bulimic may consider these treats or comfort food, but after the food has been eaten, the person may feel disgusted, and the purging will occur. This disorder may be used as a rapid weight loss technique that soon spirals into a more serious condition.

The causes of bulimia are not entirely known, although peer pressure to stay thin and low self-confidence are thought to be factors. It can also be linked to problems such as depression and anxiety. The disorder is a way for some people to have control over their lives, and children who have been abused may develop the condition. Genetic links have also been found.

One of the major signs that someone is suffering from bulimia is a visit to the toilet straight after meals. He or she may also be very secretive about food and unwilling to discuss it. Fluctuations in weight may also be seen, and a sudden drop in weight may occur.

Other physical symptoms can include tooth decay due to acid brought up from the stomach rotting the tooth enamel. Bulimics may also have bad skin and fatigue. Women with this disorder often suffer from irregular periods, and the breasts may shrink due to weight loss.

Because of the secretive nature of the condition, treatment is rare. The problem can subside when the person regains self-confidence, or she may simply grow out of it. If the condition is severe, then medical advice should be sought.

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Discussion Comments
By anon303551 — On Nov 14, 2012

I am a bulimic myself and I hate it so bad. The condition was worse when I was little, but my doctor said that I would not need any medication. I hate this. I hate the word “fat.” Whenever someone says “fat” around me, I lose my appetite, but when someone says it to me, I cry and stop eating immediately. I wish I hadn't been born this way, but I could've developed this in my past years of elementary and middle school.

I'm 14 now but I know a lot about my condition. I used to cry and throw up on purpose and I told my dad that only tonight. I feel the need to be skinny all the time but when I eat, I'm criticized for how much I eat. I hate this!

By merlinda — On Nov 01, 2011

I was concerned that I had this problem, but thank God I don't. I don't force myself to vomit. I try to eat rice and I throw up the food naturally. I don't stick my finger in my throat. It's my body withdrawing from eating this type of food. I eat most of the nonfat food, so I am sure I do not have this problem. But if you think I do, please advise.

By anon162008 — On Mar 22, 2011

this is so upsetting and it really is frightening, but all people who have bulimia do not do this just to lose weight. some do it to get attention and some are just depressed.

By Moldova — On Sep 23, 2010

Latte31-I think that it is hard to detect because there is so much shame that you really have to dig deep and have a good relationship with your daughter in order to catch this disorder.

Also, if it seems that your child is never hungry or does not eat in your presence it is also a problem. Bulimics often go through periods of anorexia in which they starve themselves.

Anorexics also go through periods of binge eating and purging which is what eating disorder bulimia is all about.

By latte31 — On Sep 23, 2010

Cafe41-Bulimia statistics indicated that this is primarily a disorder associated with Caucasian girls, but I think all young girls are the most susceptible.

Looking for bulimia symptoms is required in order catch this disorder. If you see that a child goes to the bathroom immediately after they eat, and have lost weight you should be concerned.

Also significant tooth decay along with the burning of the esophagus and increasing poor complexion are all signs of the disorder. If the child seems overly concerned with her weight seek professional help because these are bulimia signs and she may be hiding an eating disorder.

By cafe41 — On Sep 23, 2010

Sunny27-This is what happened to the talented singer Karen Carpenter. She was an anorexic and a bulimic and died of a heart attack.

Bulimia clinics offer help to those affected but the bulimia recovery could be a long process lasting several years.

Like with all addictions there are usually periods of relapse in which the bulimia disorder is still at play. Bulimia needs to be treated with a nutritionist, a doctor, a therapist and with the active participation of the family.

But like with any addiction no effective change will take place until the bulimic wants to seek change. Sometimes admitting them to a bulimia clinic is the only way to save their lives.

By Sunny27 — On Sep 23, 2010

A frightening bulimia statistics is that 1 to 3% of young girls are affected by this disorder, but about 70% of adolescent girls from age 9 and up have concerns about their weight and body image.

Bulimia causes could result in peer pressure and the extreme need to be thin. In addition, girls with perfectionist tendencies tend to have a high incidence of bulimia disorder.

This is a really destructive eating disorder because people affected by this disorder not only do not see the damage that this disorder does to their body, but they often have a very distorted view of their own bodies which makes it harder to treat them.

People that suffer from bulimia disorder or anorexia bulimia do significant damage to their esophagus, their stomach, tooth enamel and their heart. Many suffering from bulimias that do not seek help often die of heart failure.

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