Bulimia Nervosa

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What is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia Nervosa is an uncontrolled eating, or bingeing, followed by behaviors designed to prevent weight gain from the binges (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). Bulimia can be categorized in two ways, purging bulimia which is when you regularly self-induce vomiting or misuse laxatives, diuretics or enemas after bingeing and the second way is non purging bulimia which is when you use other methods to rid yourself of calories and prevent weight gain, such as fasting, strict dieting or excessive exercise (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). Mild cases of bulimia include an average of 1-3 episodes of inappropriate compensatory behavior per week with more extreme forms involving an average of 14 or more episodes per week (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). Bulimia nervosa affects 1-2% of adolescent and young adult women (NEDA, 2015). Bulimia nervosa is frequently associated with symptoms of depression and changes in social adjustment (NEDA, 2015).


  • Being preoccupied with your body shape and weight
  • Living in fear of gaining weight
  • Feeling that you can't control your eating behavior
  • Eating until the point of discomfort or pain
  • Eating much more food in a binge episode than in a normal meal or snack
  • Forcing yourself to vomit or exercise too much to keep from gaining weight after bingeing
  • Misusing laxatives, diuretics or enemas after eating
  • Restricting calories or avoiding certain foods between binges
  • Using dietary supplements or herbal products excessively for weight loss

(Mayo Clinic, 2015)

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Possible Causes

The exact cause of Bulimia is not known but there are many factors that may play a role in the development of Bulimia. The first factor being biological, this disorder tends to run in families, genes appear to carry a general risk for eating disorders (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). Most of the current research focuses on bodily systems that regulate appetite, hunger, satiety, initiation of eating, and cessation of eating (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). Disordered eating behaviors may be caused by imbalances in or dysregulation of any of the neurochemicals involved in this systems or by structural or functional problems In the hypothalamus (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). There have been a number of biological abnormalities which have been found to be associated with bulimia nervosa. The second factor is social pressures, being skinny has been taken to the extreme in media (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). There is a pressure and a notion that in order to be beautiful your body has to look a certain way. The third factor is emotional, eating disorders sometimes serve as a maladaptive strategy for dealing with painful emotions (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014) Those suffering from depressive symptoms are more at risk to develop an eating disorder (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014).

Treatment Options

There are many different options for treating Bulimia but to be effective its important to have a team approach. Psychotherapy is one option it involves discussing your bulimia and related issues with a mental health provider (MayoClinic, 2015). There are three types of psychotherapies that can be effective when treating bulimia (MayoClinic, 2015). Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to help you identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones (MayoClinic, 2015) . Family-based therapy is used to help parents intervene to stop their teenager's unhealthy eating behaviors, then to help the teen regain control over his or her own eating, and lastly to help the family deal with problems that bulimia can have on the teen's development and the family (MayoClinic, 2015). Interpersonal psychotherapy, which addresses difficulties in your close relationships, helping to improve your communication and problem-solving skills (MayoClinic, 2015). Medication is another treatment option for bulimia, antidepressants may help reduce the symptoms of bulimia when used along with psychotherapy (MayoClinic, 2015). If Bulimia is left untreated it can lead to serious medical complications and even death. Complications that may happen because of this disorder are as follows:

  • Electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death. Electrolyte imbalance is caused by dehydration and loss of potassium and sodium from the body as a result of purging behaviors.
  • Inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus from frequent vomiting.
  • Tooth decay and staining from stomach acids released during frequent vomiting.
  • Chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation as a result of laxative abuse.
  • Gastric rupture is an uncommon but possible side effect of binge eating

(NEDA, 2015).

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Common Myths

Some common myths about Bulimia Nervosa are, its all about how the person looks, the disorder may begin with personal appearance but it morphs into an obsessive compulsive conditions. The second myth is that appearance is a give away to someone having an eating disorder, but this is not always true because the persons body can be hidden by clothing. The last myth is that eating disorders are a hopeless cause, this is not true at all a person can be successfully treated for an eating disorder.


Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2014). Abnormal psychology (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Mayo Clinic. (2015). Bulimia Nervosa. Retrieved from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bulimia/basics/treatment/con-20033050

NEDA. (2015). Bulimia Nervosa. Retrieved From: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bulimia-nervosa