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Bulimia Nervosa

What is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder, commonly referred to simply as bulimia. It’s a serious condition that can be life-threatening.

It’s generally characterized by binge eating followed by purging. Purging can occur through forced vomiting, excessive exercise, or by taking laxatives or diuretics.

People with bulimia purge, or display purge behaviors, and follow a binge-and-purge cycle. Purge behaviors also include other strict methods to maintain weight like fasting, exercise, or extreme dieting.

People with bulimia often have an unrealistic body image. They are obsessed with their weight and are intensely self-critical. Many people with bulimia are of normal weight or even overweight. This can make bulimia hard to notice and diagnose.

Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa

The most common symptoms of bulimia include:

  • long-term fear of gaining weight
  • comments about being fat
  • preoccupation with weight and body
  • a strongly negative self-image
  • binge eating
  • forceful vomiting
  • overuse of laxatives or diuretics
  • use of supplements or herbs for weight loss
  • excessive exercise
  • stained teeth (from stomach acid)
  • calluses on the back of the hands
  • going to the bathroom immediately after meals
  • not eating in front of others
  • withdrawal from normal social activities

What Causes Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia has no known cause. However, there are a couple of factors that can influence its development.

People with mental health conditions or a distorted view of reality are at higher risk. The same is true for people with a strong need to meet social expectations and norms. Those who are highly influenced by the media may be at risk as well. Other factors include:

  • anger issues
  • depression
  • perfectionism
  • impulsiveness
  • past traumatic event

Some research suggests that bulimia is hereditary, or could be caused by a serotonin deficiency in the brain.

How is Bulimia Nervosa Treated?

Treatment focuses not just on food and nutrition education but also mental health treatment. It requires development of a healthy view of the self and a healthy relationship with food. Treatment options include:

  • antidepressants to treat bulimia
  • therapy that can include cognitive behavioral therapy, family-based therapy, and interpersonal psychotherapy
  • dietitian support and nutrition education, which means learning about healthy eating habits, forming a nutritious meal plan, and possibly a controlled weight loss program
  • treatment for complications, which may include hospitalization for severe cases of bulimia

Successful treatment usually involves an antidepressant, psychotherapy, and a collaborative approach between your doctor, mental healthcare provider, and family and friends.

Some eating disorder treatment facilities offer live-in or day treatment programs. Patients participating in live-in programs at treatment facilities receive around-the-clock support and care.

Patients can take classes, attend therapy, and eat nutritious meals. They may also practice gentle yoga to increase body awareness.