The desire to be thin can bring about physical and mental illness. Bulimia is one of several eating disorders. It is most often associated with binging and purging — eating until full, then inducing vomiting. Bulimics may also restrict calories by abusing diuretics and laxatives. Some cases of bulimia occur in conjunction with anorexia.

Bulimia is a potentially life threatening eating disorder in which the sufferer attempts to control his or her weight by purging food.

Bulimics are critical of their bodies and obsessed with dieting. They often exercise compulsively. Those who interact with bulimics may notice frequent trips to the bathroom, especially after meals. Unlike anorexics, bulimics are often seen eating, and may consume excessive amounts of food. Purging occurs in private after food has been consumed. Bulimics may appear thin, but the disorder affects individuals of all sizes. Many people who suffer from bulimia frequently use diet pills, laxatives, and diuretics.

Physical signs of bulimia are caused by frequent vomiting. They include damaged teeth and gums, sores or calluses on the fingers, swollen cheeks, dry mouth, and bloodshot eyes.

Bulimia sufferers may also be affected by other mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In some cases, the cause of bulimia is unknown. Genetic predisposition and environmental influences, such as exposure to images of very thin people in the media, can play a role. Bulimia often presents for the first time during adolescence and young adulthood. These times in life may be associated with emotional turmoil and major life changes. Bulimia is usually triggered by a combination of several factors.

Bulimia affects the sufferer’s physical and mental well being. Frequent vomiting and lack of nutrition can cause such complications as irregular heartbeat, heart failure, intestinal disorders, and tooth decay. The compulsive behavior associated with bulimia results in anxiety and low self-esteem.

Treatment can be challenging, since many bulimics are ashamed of their disorder, and may not want to risk the weight gain they perceive to be the result of treatment. Some sufferers take pride in their ability to maintain a low weight through bulimia. These bulimics may refer to themselves as “pro-mia.”

When a bulimic does seek treatment, he or she will work with a team of medical providers, including physicians, dietitians, and psychologists. Only the most extreme cases of bulimia require hospitalization, and these cases are usually combined with anorexia.

Most bulimics recover by meeting regularly with members of their health care team. They may participate in individual psychotherapy sessions, or group treatment. Anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed if the sufferer’s medical team determines that these disorders are contributing to bulimia.

Since genetic and biological factors can influence bulimia, some sufferers are never completely cured of the compulsion to binge and purge. These individuals may need indefinite psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, and medical checkups to prevent the condition from re-emerging.


  1. Bulimia Nervosa Fact Sheet. Womenshealth.gov. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/bulimia-nervosa.cfm
  2. Bulimia. PubMed Health. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001381/
  3. Bulimia Nervosa. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved May 12, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bulimia/DS00607

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By C. J. Newton, MA, Therapists.com Editor

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