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.
Discover more about the different types of eating disorders or how to access help and treatment as well as information and inspiration about recovery.
Body Image is our idea of how our body looks and how it is perceived by others. Having a negative or poor body image is strongly associated to Anxiety and Depression as well as eating disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia. Obsessive and exhausting over-exercising behaviour, yo-yo dieting, reluctance to socialise, difficulties with relationships and financial problems are all associated with body image.
BEAT, the UK’S leading eating disorder charity, estimates that 1.6 million people in the UK have an eating disorder. 1.4 million of these people are female. People most at risk of developing an eating disorder are young women aged between 14-25. 1 in 10 secondary school students are affected by eating disorders.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and many young people who develop anorexia or bulimia (as well as other eating disorders) will suffer serious long-term health consequences.
Body Image and Young Children
A lot of research on body image focuses on adolescents. However, there is now evidence that suggests children develop negative body image much younger than we think. Children as young as 9 and 10 show disturbing levels of anxiety about their weight and physical appearance. By the ages of 10 and 11, 1 in 8 girls want to be thinner.
10 Steps to Positive Body Image
- Appreciate all that your body can do. Every day your body carries you closer to your dreams. Celebrate all of the amazing things your body does for you—running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming, etc.
- Keep a top-ten list of things you like about yourself—things that aren’t related to how much you weigh or what you look like. Read your list often. Add to it as you become aware of more things to like about yourself.
- Remind yourself that “true beauty” is not simply skin deep. When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness that makes you beautiful regardless of whether you physically look like a supermodel. Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of your body.
- Look at yourself as a whole person. When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts. See yourself as you want others to see you–as a whole person.
- Surround yourself with positive people. It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.
- Shut down those voices in your head that tell you your body is not “right” or that you are a “bad” person. You can overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones. The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a few quick affirmations that work for you.
- Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body. Work with your body, not against it.
- Become a critical viewer of social and media messages. Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body. Protest these messages: write a letter to the advertiser or talk back to the image or message
- Do something nice for yourself–something that lets your body know you appreciate it. Take a bubble bath, make time for a nap, find a peaceful place outside to relax.
- Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about food, calories, and your weight to do something to help others. Sometimes reaching out to other people can help you feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in our world.