Bulimia is a serious eating disorder where people feel that they have lost control over their eating and evaluate themselves according to their body shape and weight. People with bulimia are caught in a cycle of eating large quantities of food (called ‘bingeing’), and then vomiting, taking laxatives or diuretics (called purging), in order to prevent gaining weight. This behaviour can dominate daily life and lead to difficulties in relationships and social situations. Usually people hide this behaviour pattern from others and their weight is often in a healthy range. People with bulimia tend not to seek help or support very readily and can experience swings in their mood as well as feeling anxious and tense.
They may also have very low self-esteem and self harm. They may experience symptoms such as tiredness, feeling bloated, constipation, abdominal pain, irregular periods, or occasional swelling of the hands and feet. Excessive vomiting can cause problems with the teeth, while laxative misuse can seriously affect the heart. Bulimia in children and young people is rare, although young people may have some of the symptoms of the condition. Bulimia usually develops at a slightly older age than anorexia. In some instances, although not all, bulimia develops from anorexia.
- Bingeing – eating large amounts of food
- Purging after bingeing – vomiting, over exercising, using laxatives or diuretics, fasting
- Preoccupied with thoughts of food and life may be organised around shopping, eating and purging behaviour
- Usually secretive about bulimic episodes
- Mood swings
- Feeling anxious and tense
- Distorted perception of body shape or weight
- Feeling of loss of control over eating
- Feelings of guilt and shame after bingeing and purging Isolation
- Can be associated with depression, low self-esteem, misuse of alcohol and self-harm
Physical signs of bulimia
Some of the more common signs of bulimia nervosa are:
- Excessive exercising
- Misuse of laxatives and diuretics
- Disappearing soon after eating
- Fatigue, lethargy
- Feeling bloated
- Stomach pain
- Swelling of the hands and feet
- Periods stop or are irregular (amenorrhea)
- Enlarged salivary glands
- Calluses on the backs of the hand from forcing down throat to vomit
- Electrolyte abnormalities/ imbalance
- Gastric problems
- Regular changes in weight
Worried you have an eating disorder?
Eating disorders are complex; there’s no single cause and not all symptoms will apply to all people. You may feel that you have a mixture of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder or even alternate between them. Some people also find they are affected by other mental health issues, an urge to harm themselves or abuse alcohol or drugs.
Even if you don’t have these symptoms if you are worried and upset by something, anything, it is important you find someone to talk to. Don’t bottle it up.
Sometimes people worry about talking to someone because they feel their eating disorder isn’t serious enough, they don’t want to worry people or waste their time, or because they feel guilty, embarrassed or ashamed. Whether your eating difficulties began recently, you’ve been struggling for a while or you’re finding yourself relapsing, you deserve support and with this support you can overcome your eating disorder. Eating disorders are illnesses and you deserve to have your concerns acknowledged respectfully, to be taken seriously and to be supported in the same way as if you were affected by any other illness.