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Bulimia (sometimes called bulimia nervosa) is a type of eating disorder. Eating disorders is the term used to describe a group of illnesses where someone has a distorted view of body image and extreme disturbances in eating behaviour.

People experiencing bulimia go on regular eating ‘binges’, which involves consuming large amounts of food in relatively discrete periods of time whilst accompanied by feelings of being out of control of one’s food intake. The binge eating is usually followed by feelings of guilt and anxiety about becoming fat, and this results in a need to get rid of the food. Common ways of getting rid of food may include:

  • over-exercising to burn the calories
  • throwing up
  • taking laxatives, diuretics or diet pills
  • not eating for several days after the binge

What are the signs?

Bingeing may be used as a way of coping with anger, depression, stress and sadness. Some of the common signs of bulimia may be:

  • eating unusually large amounts of food
  • being secretive about what is eaten and when
  • visiting the bathroom straight after eating (perhaps preceded by drinking copious amounts of water)
  • over-exercising
  • being very critical of one’s self
  • being moody
  • depression
  • being regularly tired/lacking energy
  • sore throat
  • decaying teeth

If you’re experiencing a number of these things, or if you notice them in a friend, it may be helpful to go and talk with someone you trust like a family member, teacher, counsellor or local doctor for some advice. Not sure? Have a look at the benefits of talking to someone.

Also, check out Bodywhys for helpful advice and support around this issue, as well as a directory of services nationally that can help you or a friend deal with bulimia.

What causes bulimia?

Like other eating disorders, bulimia is a combination of physical and mental health difficulties and the cause is not clear. However, a number of factors may be associated with bulimia.

These may include:

  • physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • cultural emphasis on slimness
  • preoccupation with body image ideals
  • relationships with peers or family
  • loss and grief
  • brain chemistry
  • physiological and psychological effects of dieting
  • stress or coping styles

Where to get help

The reasons that people experience bulimia may differ from person to person and the options for treatment may also differ from person to person. Your local doctor, nutritionist or counsellor should be able to talk with you about what options are available and which may be best for you. If necessary, they can also refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist. Have a look at face-to-face help for information the the different types of support and how to get the help that’s right for you.

See the Bodywhys website for helpful advice and support around this issue, as well as a directory of services, including counsellors, nationally.

A counsellor or psychologist will talk with you about your food and weight beliefs and behaviours. They may also explore the reasons why you may have developed these beliefs and behaviours. This can be done in a group situation or in a one on one situation. It is a good idea to talk with your counsellor as to which is the best option for you. If you’re worried about going to see a counsellor, check out first counsellor visit for information and advice so you’re really prepared.


Edited by Headstrong

This article was last reviewed on 03 May 2017

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