• 10-15% of all Americans suffer from some type of serious eating disorder (Mirasol, Inc., 2014).
  • An eating disorder is best defined as any type of psychological disorder that is often characterized abnormal eating patterns.
  • Eating disorders can be immensely dangerous. In fact, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness (Mirasol, Inc., 2014).
  • Bulimia nervosa is categorized as an eating disorder.


Bulimia nervosa, usually abbreviated to bulimia, is an illness in which a person frequently has regular episodes of overeating, also known as binging, and feels a loss of control (Rogge, 2014). The person then uses different ways, such as vomiting or laxatives to prevent weight gain.


Bulimia can affect both males and females of all ages. While this disorder can affect both males and females, 90% of all bulimic diagnoses are made in females (ECRI Institute, 2014).


Bulimia is often triggered by dieting. Dieting triggers the presentation of bulimia's destructive cycle of binging and purging (Smith & Segal, 2014). Often, the irony of bulimia is that the stricter the diet, the more likely it is that one will become preoccupied, or even obsessed, with food. This is often because when the body is starved, the body responds with powerful cravings—its way of asking for necessary nutrition. As the tension, hunger, and feelings of deprivation build up in the body, the compulsion to eat becomes much too powerful to resist (Smith & Segal, 2014).

Bulimia usually provides an all-or-nothing mindset, in which one often feels that any diet "slip-up" is equivalent to total failure. For instance, after having one cookie, one might think, “I’ve already blown it, so I might as well go all out.” Unfortunately, the relief that binging brings is extremely short-lived. Soon after, feelings of guilt and or self-loathing set in. As a result, one often purges to make up for binging, in hopes to regain a sense of control. It is important to know that purging only reinforces binge eating.

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There are a number of reasons in regard as to what may cause bulimia. Some of these reasons include: one's culture, family, life changes or stressful events, personality traits, and biology (Women's Health, 2012).

  • Culture. People in the United States are constantly under pressure to fit into a certain ideal of beauty.
  • Family History. A family history of bulimia can also lead one to have an eating disorder, as they grow up in a constant physically critical environment.
  • Life changes and stressful events. Life changes and stressful events can also lead to bulimia, as the individual tries to regain a sense of control in their life.
  • Personality Traits. A person who suffers from bulimia may not like themselves, hate the way that they look, and or feel hopeless (Women's Health, 2012). They may have a hard time expressing emotions, or have hard time controlling impulsive behaviors, such as binging and purging.
  • Biology. Genes, hormones, and chemicals in the brain may also be predisposing factors in developing bulimia (Women's Health, 2012).


There are many signs and symptoms of bulimia. Some of these signs and symptoms include:

  • Alternating between overeating and fasting
  • Discolored teeth -from constant exposure to stomach acid when throwing up (Smith & Segal, 2014)
  • Excessive exercising
  • Frequent fluctuations in weight
  • Frequently engaging in the use of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas (Smith & Segal, 2014)
  • Going to the bathroom directly after meals
  • Lack of control over eating
  • Puffy "chipmunk" cheeks -caused by repeated vomiting (Smith & Segal, 2014)
  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating


Bulimia can be incredibly harmful to the human body. Look at the picture below to find out how bulimia can affect one's health and body:

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There are many forms of treatment for bulimia. The goal in treating bulimia is not only to restore normal eating behavior, but also treat medical complications and address any underlying psychological problems (Harvard Mental Health, 2009). Two treatment options that are available for treating bulimia are: nutrition counseling and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

  • Nutrition counseling: To break the cycle of binging and compensation, patients are taught to structure and pace meals, while adjusting to a daily caloric intake that is needed to maintain weight.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps identify and change distorted thoughts, about themselves and about food, that underlie their compulsive behavior, while finding better ways to cope with stresses.


Myth: You cannot die from bulimia.

Reality: People who suffer from bulimia are at a high risk for dying, especially if they are purging, using laxatives, and doing excessive exercise (Thompson, 2001).

Myth: You can always tell if someone is bulimic by their appearance.

Reality: Not all people with bulimia look like the extreme cases shown on talk shows, and in the media. However, just because someone does not look emaciated, does not mean they are not bulimic or that their health is not in danger (Thompson, 2001).

Myth: People with bulimia do this to hurt family and friends.

Reality: Nobody chooses an eating disorder. The sufferer is not trying to hurt anyone including themself (Thompson, 2001). Eating disorders are a form of mental health problem and therefore have no intended consequence; they are neither conspired nor planned.

Myth: Bulimia is about wanting to be thin.

Reality: Eating disorders, including bulimia, have a biological base and can occur in individuals that do not aspire to be thinner than they are. Due to the fear of gaining weight that many eating disorder sufferers have, it is common for eating disorders to be mistaken for extreme dieting behavior (Thompson, 2001).


Know that you are not alone. Please don't hesitate to ask for help.

Call our National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at: 800-931-2237

or visit our webiste at: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/ (NEDA, 2014).

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ECRI Institute. (2014). Who develops bulimia nervosa? Retrieved from


Mirasol, Inc. (2014). Eating disorder statistics. Retrieved from http://www.mirasol.net/eating-disorders/information/eating-disorder-statistics.php

NEDA. (2014). National eating disorders association. Retrieved from http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

Harvard Mental Health. (2009). Treating bulimia nervosa. Retrieved from http://health.harvard.edu

Rogge, T. (2014). Bulimia. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000341.htm

Smith, M., & Segal, J. (2014). Bulimia nervosa. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/mental/bulimia_signs_symptoms_causes_treatment.htm

Thompson, C. (2001). Myths about eating disorders. Retrieved from


Women’s Health. (2012). What causes bulimia? Retrieved from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/bulimia- nervosa.html