Bulimia: What Is It?

Reviewed Nov 23, 2016

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Summary

  • Involves a constant cycle of binge-eating and purging
  • Early detection and prompt treatment is very important

Bulimia, also called bulimia nervosa, is a severe eating disorder. People with the illness eat large amounts of food in a short period of time. They then try to rid themselves of the food in order to not gain weight. This purging may be done by throwing up or through the over use of exercise. It may also be done by over using diet pills, enemas or laxatives. The guilt that results often leads to the next cycle of binge-eating and purging.

Bulimia vs. anorexia

Like anorexia, people with bulimia have a great fear of gaining weight. They will therefore do what they feel is needed to burn off calories. They have a skewed body image which greatly affects their self-image.

People with bulimia often have a normal body weight. They also may be slightly thin or overweight. No matter what their size or shape, they are not happy with how their body looks. They react by eating too much and then purging. Sometimes people with anorexia also resort to binge-eating followed by purging. For the most part, people with anorexia eat very little despite being very thin.

Causes of bulimia

Bulimia affects mostly teen girls and young women of all races. It also occurs in males, but is far less common. Culture can play a large role in getting the illness. American women above all tend to feel the pressure to be thin. Pictures of women with “perfect” bodies are all over the media. This creates unreal ideals for teens and young women, as well as many older women.

The disease tends to run in families. Having a parent or sibling with the illness greatly adds to the chances of getting it. Sometimes it is caused by chemicals or hormones being out of balance. Peer pressure, stress, trauma and a poor self-image can also be triggers.

Signs of bulimia

It is not always easy to spot someone who has bulimia. Her body weight may be normal or at least not very thin like someone with anorexia. Also, she will try to hide her binge-eating and purging due to shame. This same sense of shame will keep her from reaching out for help.

Some of the signs to look for include:

  • Constant trips to the bathroom after eating
  • Smells of vomit
  • Swelling of jaw or cheeks
  • Staining of teeth
  • Scrapes on knuckles from induced vomiting
  • Being obsessed with exercise
  • Finding empty food wrappers
  • Finding containers of diet pills or laxatives
  • Noticing large amounts of food missing
  • Withdrawal, anxiety, or depression

Effects of bulimia

A person with this illness lives a life filled with guilt, secrecy, and shame. He does not like his body and has low self-esteem. At times he will feel anxious, depressed, and out of control. The illness does not just affect mood issues. It also takes a heavy toll on the digestive system and other body parts.

Some of the damage to the body includes:

  • Tooth decay
  • Dehydration
  • Bowel movement problems
  • Bloating and cramping
  • Acid reflux
  • Ulcers
  • Irritated throat and esophagus
  • Swelling of cheeks and jaw
  • Skipping heartbeat
  • Kidney problems
  • Problems with hormones
  • Problems getting pregnant
  • Problems during pregnancy

Treatment

Bulimia can be a deadly illness. The sooner it is noticed and treated, the better. Talk therapy is the main form of treatment. This includes one-on-one as well as group therapy. A special form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) designed for bulimia can also be helpful.

Guidance on proper eating and diet will help promote more healthy ideas about food. Family support is also a vital part of the healing process. Drug treatment may be used as well. Fluoxetine (Prozac®) is currently the only U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug for treating bulimia.

Resource

Office on Women’s Health
Bulimia Fact Sheet

By Kevin Rizzo
Source: Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/bulimia-nervosa.html; National Eating Disorders Association, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bulimia-nervosa; National Alliance on Mental Illness, www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Eating-Disorders; National Institute of Mental Health, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml
Reviewed by Maria F Rodowski-Stanco, MD, Associate Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Involves a constant cycle of binge-eating and purging
  • Early detection and prompt treatment is very important

Bulimia, also called bulimia nervosa, is a severe eating disorder. People with the illness eat large amounts of food in a short period of time. They then try to rid themselves of the food in order to not gain weight. This purging may be done by throwing up or through the over use of exercise. It may also be done by over using diet pills, enemas or laxatives. The guilt that results often leads to the next cycle of binge-eating and purging.

Bulimia vs. anorexia

Like anorexia, people with bulimia have a great fear of gaining weight. They will therefore do what they feel is needed to burn off calories. They have a skewed body image which greatly affects their self-image.

People with bulimia often have a normal body weight. They also may be slightly thin or overweight. No matter what their size or shape, they are not happy with how their body looks. They react by eating too much and then purging. Sometimes people with anorexia also resort to binge-eating followed by purging. For the most part, people with anorexia eat very little despite being very thin.

Causes of bulimia

Bulimia affects mostly teen girls and young women of all races. It also occurs in males, but is far less common. Culture can play a large role in getting the illness. American women above all tend to feel the pressure to be thin. Pictures of women with “perfect” bodies are all over the media. This creates unreal ideals for teens and young women, as well as many older women.

The disease tends to run in families. Having a parent or sibling with the illness greatly adds to the chances of getting it. Sometimes it is caused by chemicals or hormones being out of balance. Peer pressure, stress, trauma and a poor self-image can also be triggers.

Signs of bulimia

It is not always easy to spot someone who has bulimia. Her body weight may be normal or at least not very thin like someone with anorexia. Also, she will try to hide her binge-eating and purging due to shame. This same sense of shame will keep her from reaching out for help.

Some of the signs to look for include:

  • Constant trips to the bathroom after eating
  • Smells of vomit
  • Swelling of jaw or cheeks
  • Staining of teeth
  • Scrapes on knuckles from induced vomiting
  • Being obsessed with exercise
  • Finding empty food wrappers
  • Finding containers of diet pills or laxatives
  • Noticing large amounts of food missing
  • Withdrawal, anxiety, or depression

Effects of bulimia

A person with this illness lives a life filled with guilt, secrecy, and shame. He does not like his body and has low self-esteem. At times he will feel anxious, depressed, and out of control. The illness does not just affect mood issues. It also takes a heavy toll on the digestive system and other body parts.

Some of the damage to the body includes:

  • Tooth decay
  • Dehydration
  • Bowel movement problems
  • Bloating and cramping
  • Acid reflux
  • Ulcers
  • Irritated throat and esophagus
  • Swelling of cheeks and jaw
  • Skipping heartbeat
  • Kidney problems
  • Problems with hormones
  • Problems getting pregnant
  • Problems during pregnancy

Treatment

Bulimia can be a deadly illness. The sooner it is noticed and treated, the better. Talk therapy is the main form of treatment. This includes one-on-one as well as group therapy. A special form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) designed for bulimia can also be helpful.

Guidance on proper eating and diet will help promote more healthy ideas about food. Family support is also a vital part of the healing process. Drug treatment may be used as well. Fluoxetine (Prozac®) is currently the only U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug for treating bulimia.

Resource

Office on Women’s Health
Bulimia Fact Sheet

By Kevin Rizzo
Source: Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/bulimia-nervosa.html; National Eating Disorders Association, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bulimia-nervosa; National Alliance on Mental Illness, www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Eating-Disorders; National Institute of Mental Health, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml
Reviewed by Maria F Rodowski-Stanco, MD, Associate Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Involves a constant cycle of binge-eating and purging
  • Early detection and prompt treatment is very important

Bulimia, also called bulimia nervosa, is a severe eating disorder. People with the illness eat large amounts of food in a short period of time. They then try to rid themselves of the food in order to not gain weight. This purging may be done by throwing up or through the over use of exercise. It may also be done by over using diet pills, enemas or laxatives. The guilt that results often leads to the next cycle of binge-eating and purging.

Bulimia vs. anorexia

Like anorexia, people with bulimia have a great fear of gaining weight. They will therefore do what they feel is needed to burn off calories. They have a skewed body image which greatly affects their self-image.

People with bulimia often have a normal body weight. They also may be slightly thin or overweight. No matter what their size or shape, they are not happy with how their body looks. They react by eating too much and then purging. Sometimes people with anorexia also resort to binge-eating followed by purging. For the most part, people with anorexia eat very little despite being very thin.

Causes of bulimia

Bulimia affects mostly teen girls and young women of all races. It also occurs in males, but is far less common. Culture can play a large role in getting the illness. American women above all tend to feel the pressure to be thin. Pictures of women with “perfect” bodies are all over the media. This creates unreal ideals for teens and young women, as well as many older women.

The disease tends to run in families. Having a parent or sibling with the illness greatly adds to the chances of getting it. Sometimes it is caused by chemicals or hormones being out of balance. Peer pressure, stress, trauma and a poor self-image can also be triggers.

Signs of bulimia

It is not always easy to spot someone who has bulimia. Her body weight may be normal or at least not very thin like someone with anorexia. Also, she will try to hide her binge-eating and purging due to shame. This same sense of shame will keep her from reaching out for help.

Some of the signs to look for include:

  • Constant trips to the bathroom after eating
  • Smells of vomit
  • Swelling of jaw or cheeks
  • Staining of teeth
  • Scrapes on knuckles from induced vomiting
  • Being obsessed with exercise
  • Finding empty food wrappers
  • Finding containers of diet pills or laxatives
  • Noticing large amounts of food missing
  • Withdrawal, anxiety, or depression

Effects of bulimia

A person with this illness lives a life filled with guilt, secrecy, and shame. He does not like his body and has low self-esteem. At times he will feel anxious, depressed, and out of control. The illness does not just affect mood issues. It also takes a heavy toll on the digestive system and other body parts.

Some of the damage to the body includes:

  • Tooth decay
  • Dehydration
  • Bowel movement problems
  • Bloating and cramping
  • Acid reflux
  • Ulcers
  • Irritated throat and esophagus
  • Swelling of cheeks and jaw
  • Skipping heartbeat
  • Kidney problems
  • Problems with hormones
  • Problems getting pregnant
  • Problems during pregnancy

Treatment

Bulimia can be a deadly illness. The sooner it is noticed and treated, the better. Talk therapy is the main form of treatment. This includes one-on-one as well as group therapy. A special form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) designed for bulimia can also be helpful.

Guidance on proper eating and diet will help promote more healthy ideas about food. Family support is also a vital part of the healing process. Drug treatment may be used as well. Fluoxetine (Prozac®) is currently the only U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug for treating bulimia.

Resource

Office on Women’s Health
Bulimia Fact Sheet

By Kevin Rizzo
Source: Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/bulimia-nervosa.html; National Eating Disorders Association, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bulimia-nervosa; National Alliance on Mental Illness, www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Eating-Disorders; National Institute of Mental Health, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml
Reviewed by Maria F Rodowski-Stanco, MD, Associate Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

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