Bulimia Nervosa

Adrianna Dillon

What is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by uncontrolled binge eating (ingesting an extreme amount of calories in a short amount of time) followed behaviors that are intended to prevent weight gain from the binges (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014, pg. 343). Some behaviors used to "control" weight are:

  • Vomiting
  • Use of laxatives or diuretics
  • Fasting
  • Excessive exercising

This disorder occurs most often in adolescence, typically a time of major transition, and affects both genders, but is much more common among women (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). Nearly one to three women out of 100 will develop bulimia at some point in their live and the rate for men is one tenth that of women (Harvard Mental Health, 2009).

What is the cause of this disorder?

There are many social, emotional and psychological factors that may play a role in the development of an eating disorder such as bulimia. In 2006, scientists confirmed that bulimia nervosa does in fact run in families (Sonenklar, 2011). If your mother or your sister suffered from bulimia, you are four times more likely to develop it yourself. There are a number of factors or triggers that may put an individual at risk (Obadina, 2014):

  • Body image issues
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty managing feelings
  • Personality disorders
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Lack of will power
  • Bad habits surrounding food
  • History of personal trauma

These factors alone do not cause an eating disorder but they may contribute to its development. These factors may change from culture to culture as the societal norms may differ. Many people who suffer from bulimia feel a pressure to conform to what is considered to be "normal" and beautiful within their culture or peer group. With the influx of reality television in the United States, the pressure on young girls to look like these reality stars and stick thin models, has only grown in severity (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014).

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Common Myths & Misconceptions

With myths that create a dark cloud, further stigmatizing the topic of bulimia, it cause the person suffering to feel shameful and fear opening up about their disorder and seeking help. These myths need to be debunked and encouraging those who suffer to come forward and seek help must be the main goal.

You can tell someone has bulimia nervosa just by looking at them.

This is not true.The stereotype surrounding those with eating disorders is that they always appear extremely frail, when in reality they can come in all different shapes and sizes.

Men don't get eating disorders.

Again, not true. While it is much more likely for a woman to suffer, one in 10 suffering from an eating disorder, are males (Center for Eating Disorders, 2014).

Purging is an effective way to lose weight.

Purging does not actually rid the body of the calories one has ingested, it often just results in dehydration of the body (Center for Eating Disorders, 2014).

Anorexia is the only life threatening eating disorder.

While anorexia is dangerous, bulimia has a mortality rate of 3.9%, which is just slightly lower than the mortality rate of anorexia and 20% of individuals who don't seek treatment, will die as a result (Center for Eating Disorders, 2014).

Treatment Options

If you are suffering from bulimia nervosa, there are treatment options available. With the aid of a mental health care professional, a treatment plan can be made to fit the needs and situation of each individual. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) recommends treatment that starts with nutritional counseling, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) (Harvard Mental Health, 2009). Nutritional counseling is important to help the individual start to develop a healthier relationship with food.

CBT is found to be the most effective treatment option in treating bulimia nervosa (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014). This therapy helps to address the individuals distorted views about themselves and food, and help to teach them new strategies for dealing with their compulsive behaviors (Harvard Mental Health, 2009).

For a higher rate of long term success from treatment, it is important to find a combination of therapies that works best for you. When seeking a mental health professional, it is important they be licensed by the state they practice in and are current with their continuing education. Due to the difficulty level regarding the treatment of bulimia, it is beneficial to seek and individual who has experience and specializes in treating eating disorders.

For More Help

If you believe that you, or someone you know, may be suffering from bulimia nervosa, do not hesitate to seek help. You do not have to live this way forever. For more help, contact:

National Eating Disorders Association


Academy For Eating Disorders



Bulimia Nervosa. (2012). Bulimia Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/bulimia-nervosa.html

Eating Disorder Facts & Myths. (2014). The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. Retrieved from http://eatingdisorder.org/eating-disorder-information/facts-and-myths/

Harvard Medical School (2009). Treating bulimia nervosa. A combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medication works best. The Harvard Mental Health Letter, 26(3), 4-5.

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

Obadina, S. (2014). An overview of anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorder. British Journal Of School Nursing, 9(9), 441-446.

Sonenklar, C. (2011). Anorexia and bulimia. Minneapolis : Twenty-First Century Books.