Bulimia Nervosa – Fact File

Bulimia is an eating disorder and a serious mental health condition, affecting 1-2% of women and 0.1-0.5% of men across the world.
Anyone can get bulimia, however it is most common in people aged 13-17 years-old.

People with bulimia will go through periods of eating a lot of food in a short space of time (this is often referred to as ‘binge-eating’), they will then make themselves sick, use laxatives, or excessively exercise (or a combination of the three) to try and stop themselves from gaining any weight, this is often referred to as ‘purging.’

Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia

Binge-eating: In order for binge-eating to be considered a binge, it needs to have two key factors. The first factor is that the person must consume more food than what is deemed normal for the given situation. For example, everyone tends to eat more food than normal when it is for a special occasion, such as Thanks Giving or Christmas, therefore this would not be considered as a binge.
The second factor is feeling as though the eating is out of control. You may feel as though you physically cannot stop eating, you may feel disconnected, as if you are watching yourself binge from outside of your own body.

When binge-eating is a product of bulimia, it will be a regular occurrence, rather than happening once or twice.
Binge-eating can be both spontaneous or planned. On the one hand, you may find yourself eating everything and anything that you can find (spontaneous), or you may take yourself shopping to look for, and to buy, foods for you to binge on later (planned.)

Purging: After binging, it is common to feel guilty for the amount of food that you have consumed, you may also feel anxious or angry. It is feelings such as this that then lead to purging, an attempt to undo these behaviours.
There are different methods of purging:
– Making yourself sick
– Taking laxatives
– Taking illegal drugs, such as amphetamines, to try and force your body to burn off the energy faster.
– Excessively exercising
Some may use a combination of these methods in order to achieve satisfaction with themselves.

Other signs: People with bulimia tend to focus heavily on food. They may avoid certain types of food, or try to avoid eating altogether, but the hungrier they get, the more intrusive thoughts they have… and eventually the hunger leads to a loss of control and binging.
People with bulimia often have issues around their self-esteem, not only in relation to their body image but in other ways also.

Bulimia typically starts in adolescence or young adulthood but can continue for many years.

Health Consequences of Bulimia:

Bulimia can lead to many other health concerns, especially if it is not diagnosed at an early stage.

  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Dental problems – These are caused by the acid in your stomach damaging the enamel on your teeth as a result of excessive vomiting.
  • Bad breath, sore throat and tears in the lining of your throat – Also caused by stomach acid.
  • Irregular or absent periods (in those who menstruate)
  • Dry skin and hair.
  • Brittle fingernails.
  • Swollen glands.
  • Fits and muscle spasms.
  • Heart, kidney and bowel problems – including permanent constipation.
  • Bone problems – You are more likely to develop osteoporosis, especially if you have experiences symptoms of both bulimia and anorexia.

Treatments of Bulimia:

Treatments for bulimia need to target both the emotional and physiological triggers as well as the underlying cause of your illness.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective forms of treatment for this particular eating disorder. This form of therapy focuses on your thoughts, your behaviours and your emotions. The aim of this is to change the way that you think about yourself, food and body image, and help you to form a healthy relationship between yourself and your diet.

There are alternative forms of therapy available – such as family therapy (particularly for minors), this brings in the immediate family members and helps them to understand your condition as well as giving them ways to cope and ways to help.

Other Facts and Statistics:

Individuals with bulimia are likely to experience other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and personality disorders.

One study found that the mortality rate in those with bulimia is 3.9 times higher than that expected of the general population.

Although anyone can experience bulimia, women are more likely than men to be diagnosed. The ratio of women to men with bulimia is 10:1.


NHS – Bulimia Overview

NHS: Inform – Bulimia

BEAT Eating Disorders – Helplines

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