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Bulimia Nervosa Health Center

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Bulimia Nervosa - Topic Overview


All eating disorders are complex problems, and experts do not really know what causes them. But they may be caused by a mix of family history, social factors, and personality traits. You may be more likely to have bulimia if:

  • Other people in your family are obese or have an eating disorder.
  • You have a job or do a sport that stresses body size, such as ballet, modeling, or gymnastics.
  • You are often on a diet or you exercise too much in order to lose weight or change your body shape.
  • Have a poor body image, or feel that your body should be slim like many people in the media.
  • You are the type of person who tries to be perfect all the time, never feels good enough, or worries a lot.
  • You are dealing with stressful life events, such as divorce, moving to a new town or school, or losing a loved one.

Bulimia is most common in:

  • Teens. Like other eating disorders, bulimia usually starts in the teen years. But it can start even earlier or in adulthood.
  • Women. But boys and men have it too.

While bulimia often starts in the teen years, it usually lasts into adulthood and is a long-term disorder.

People with bulimia:

  • Binge eat on a regular basis. They eat larger amounts of food than most people would in a similar situation, in a short period of time (2 hours or less). During a binge, they feel out of control and feel unable to stop eating.
  • Purge to get rid of the food and avoid weight gain. They may make themselves vomit, exercise very hard or for a long time, or misuse laxatives, enemas, water pills (diuretics), or other medicines.
  • Base how they feel about themselves on how much they weigh and how they look.

Any one of these can be a sign of an eating disorder that needs treatment.

Bulimia is different from anorexia nervosa, another eating disorder. People who have anorexia eat so little that they become extremely thin. People who have bulimia may not be thin. They may be a normal size. They may binge in secret and deny that they are purging. This makes it hard for others to know that a person with bulimia has a serious problem.

If you are concerned about someone, look for the following signs. A person may have bulimia if he or she:

  • Goes to the bathroom right after meals.
  • Is secretive about eating, hides food, or will not eat around other people.
  • Exercises a lot, even when he or she does not feel well.
  • Often talks about dieting, weight, and body shape.
  • Uses laxatives or diuretics often.
  • Has teeth marks or calluses on the back of the hands or swollen cheeks or jaws. These are caused by making oneself vomit.
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