Bulimia nervosa, commonly called bulimia, is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder. People with bulimia may secretly binge — eating large amounts of food — and then purge, trying to get rid of the extra calories in an unhealthy way. For example, someone with bulimia may force vomiting or do excessive exercise. Sometimes people purge after eating only a small snack or a normal-size meal.
Bulimia can be categorized in two ways:
- Purging bulimia. You regularly self-induce vomiting or misuse laxatives, diuretics or enemas after bingeing.
- Nonpurging bulimia. You use other methods to rid yourself of calories and prevent weight gain, such as fasting, strict dieting or excessive exercise.
However, these behaviors often overlap, and the attempt to rid yourself of extra calories is usually referred to as purging, no matter what the method.
Bulimia signs and symptoms may include:
- Being preoccupied with your body shape and weight
- Living in fear of gaining weight
- Feeling that you can’t control your eating behavior
- Eating until the point of discomfort or pain
- Eating much more food in a binge episode than in a normal meal or snack
- Forcing yourself to vomit or exercise too much
- Misusing laxatives, diuretics or enemas after eating
- Using dietary supplements or herbal products for weight loss
If you think a loved one may have symptoms of bulimia, have an open and honest discussion about your concerns. You can’t force someone to seek professional care, but you can offer encouragement and support. You can also help find a qualified doctor or mental health provider, make an appointment and even offer to go along.
Because most people with bulimia are of normal weight or even slightly overweight, it may not be apparent to others that something is wrong. Red flags that family and friends may notice include:
- Constantly worrying or complaining about being fat
- Having a distorted, excessively negative body image
- Repeatedly eating unusually large quantities of food in one sitting, especially high-fat or sweet foods
- Not wanting to eat in public or in front of others
- Going to the bathroom right after eating or during meals
- Exercising too much
- Having sores, scars or calluses on the knuckles or hands
- Having damaged teeth and gums
Although you can’t treat bulimia on your own, you can build on your treatment plan. In addition to professional treatment, follow these self-care tips for bulimia:
- Stick to your treatment plan. Don’t skip therapy sessions and try not to stray from meal plans, even if they make you uncomfortable.
- Get the right nutrition. Talk to your doctor about appropriate vitamin and mineral supplements. If you aren’t eating well or you’re frequently purging, it’s likely your body isn’t getting all of the nutrients it needs.
- Learn about bulimia. Education about your condition can empower you and motivate you to stick to your treatment plan.
- Stay in touch. Don’t isolate yourself from caring family members and friends who want to see you get healthy. Understand that they have your best interests at heart and that nurturing, caring relationships are healthy for you.
- Be kind to yourself. Resist urges to weigh yourself or check yourself in the mirror frequently. These may do nothing but fuel your drive to maintain unhealthy habits.
- Be cautious with exercise. Talk to your health care providers about what kind of physical activity, if any, is appropriate for you, especially if you exercise excessively to burn off post-binge calories.
(information taken from Mayoclinic)