Spotlight: Bulimia

To finish off the week, I’m just going to do a brief overview of the next most common eating disorder: bulimia.

What is Bulimia? 

Unlike anorexia, which tends to be focused on restriction, bulimia is a cycle of binging and purging. Binges are brief periods of excessive eating. To undo this overeating, bulimics purge through vomiting, laxatives, and/or excessive exercise. Bulimia, however, is not necessarily the same as binge eating since the binge episodes in bulimia are followed by purging.

Although bulimia sufferers can have weight variation, the weight loss is not usually as drastic as that of anorexia. The recovery rate is slightly better than anorexia as well, but bulimia is still a life-threatening illness. Like many eating disorders, depression, traumatic events, stress, and feelings of inadequacy can cause these behaviors. Binge episodes trigger feelings of being out of control, which are counteracted by the self-induced purging.

Here are common attributes of bulimia, but—as mentioned with anorexia–they are by no means all-inclusive. Each individual may exhibit all or only a few of these symptoms:

Self love

Physical Symptoms:

-swelling in jaws, cheeks, and salivary glands

-teeth discoloration or tooth decay

-electrolyte imbalances caused by dehydration and loss of potassium and sodium


-acid reflux disorder

-inflammation of the esophagus

-broken blood vessels in eyes from vomiting

-constipation and irregular bowel movements

-usually appear to have average body weight, but can have periods of either significant weight loss or gain

-heart failure (which can lead to death)


-unusual or secretive eating habits, sometimes characterized by little food intake followed by overeating

-hiding the amount of food eaten during binges or hoarding food

-frequent trips to the bathroom after meals

-excessive exercise, despite injury or illness

-laxative or diuretics abuse

-feelings of perfection and inadequacy

-obsession with weight or physical appearance

-social withdrawal

-can be associated with other mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse

Yes, I have an eating disorder

Who Develops Bulimia?:

As with every eating disorder, everyone can develop bulimia. According to NEDA, bulimia affects 1-2% of young adult women, with 80% of all patients being female. The average onset age is 20 years old.


Medical treatment should be consulted first, making sure the patient restores his or her electrolyte levels and can maintain a healthy physical condition. Psychotherapy helps address the psychological reasons behind eating disorder behavior. Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT focuses on having the patient monitor “automatic thoughts” that contribute to negative or self-destructive habits in order to stop such circular behaviors. Antidepressants might be prescribed as well.

Because bulimics often appear to be of normal weight, diagnosing is particularly difficult. Half of sufferers will fully recover within ten years but another 20% will continue to show symptoms.

Remember: Regardless of the eating disorder, it is NEVER an individual’s fault. If you or someone you know has anorexia, please call the National Eating Disorders Association’s hotline at 1-800-931-2237

When I recover I will have the courage

Anorexia and bulimia are just two of many eating disorders, but I thought a little background would help our future discussions on the blog. Check in next week where I hope to start talking about the media’s impact on eating disorders.

Stay happy and healthy!

Fuel for Thought: What are your thoughts on eating disorders? How do you think society either prevents or encourages eating disorders today?



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