Bulimia overview

Bulimia is an eating disorder. Someone with bulimia might binge on food and then vomit (also called purge) in a cycle of binging and purging. Binge eating refers to quickly eating large amounts of food over short periods of time. Purging involves forced vomiting, laxative use, excessive exercise, or fasting in an attempt to lose weight that might be gained from eating food or binging.

A person with bulimia often feels a loss of control over their eating as well as guilt over their behavior. They are usually aware that their behavior is abnormal. Bulimia is most common in adolescent and young adult women. People with bulimia are often of normal or near-normal weight, which makes them different from people with anorexia (another eating disorder in which the person does not eat).


Probably the earliest and most obvious sign of bulimia is an overconcern with weight and body shape. People with bulimia will try to hide their binging and purging behavior from others. This secrecy often makes it difficult to identify the actual problem until a serious complication from the physical self-abuse occurs. People with bulimia may complain of generalized weakness, fatigue, abdominal pain, and loss of menstrual cycles. They may even complain of vomiting or diarrhea without revealing that it is self-induced.
  • Obsessive preoccupation with food.
  • Excessive concern about body shape and weight.
  • Episodes of bingeing, consuming excessively large amounts of food in a short period of time (usually within two hours).
  • Episodes of purging to immediately get rid of just-consumed food using self-induced vomiting, taking enemas, or abusing laxatives or other medication.
  • Binge/purge behavior at least twice a week for a period of three months or longer.
  • Excessive exercise, often accompanying periods of fasting to counteract or prepare for binge episodes.
  • Disparaging self-criticism; depressed mood; feelings of shame and guilt during and after bingeing and purging episodes.

Although bingeing and purging usually occurs in secrecy or as inconspicuously as possible, the signs that a person has bulimia nervosa eventually become detectable. Warning signs include:

  • Abdominal pain and bloating.
  • Irregular menstrual cycle.
  • Constipation.
  • Swollen "chipmunk cheeks."
  • Dental erosion and decay.
  • Overall weakness.
  • Swelling (edema).
  • Swollen salivary glands.

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The first course of action should be to seek help from a physician to diagnose and treat any physical problems. To treat the symptoms of bulimia nervosa, people often benefit significantly from therapy. There are therapists who are especially experienced at helping people who have eating disorders. Therapy provides a safe, comforting, and confidential setting in which to receive the kind of help that can best determine and treat any underlying emotional and psychological causes for the disturbed eating. behavior, as well as address the effect it has had on their sense of self, their relationships with others, and their capacity to function optimally in everyday life.



  • Up to 24 million people suffer from eating disorders in the U.S.
  • 1 in 5 women struggle with eating disorders or disordered eating.
  • 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.
  • 25% of college-aged women engage in bingeing and purging as a weight-management technique.
  • About 72% of alcoholic women younger than 30 also have eating disorders.
  • Men and women with higher levels of femininity have greater levels of dieting behaviors.

Word bank

Preoccupation: Something that preoccupies or engrosses the mind.
Disparaging: To reduce in esteem or rank.