What is bulimia?

Bulimia is a mental health condition and is a type of eating disorder typically characterised by periods of binge eating (eating large amounts of food in a short space of time) and then subsequently purging this food in attempts to lose weight. People with bulimia will often make themselves sick or use laxatives after eating. Bulimia effects both men and women, of any age, but it is most common amongst younger women, typically starting in teenage years.

What are the symptoms of bulimia?

The symptoms of bulimia include:

  • Binge eating and then purging
  • A preoccupation with body weight and image
  • Vomiting and/or the use of laxatives or diuretics
  • Excessive exercise
  • Changes in mood, such as feeling anxious or depressed
  • Exhaustion
  • Sore throat
  • Dental problems

Bulimia can be difficult to identify, as people suffering from this disorder can behave secretively in attempts to hide their symptoms.

What causes bulimia?

Causes of bulimia are not black and white and there is no known exact cause. However, medical research indicates that a combination of factors play a role in bulimia’s onset. These factors include a person’s biology, their emotional wellbeing, societal pressures and other environmental factors at play.

Certain risk factors have been identified as increasing susceptibility to bulimia. Such risk factors include:

  • Age – onset usually starts in mid to late teens.
  • Gender – females are considered more likely to have bulimia.
  • Genetics – research has shown that bulimia can run in families and could be hereditary.
  • Emotional and psychological wellbeing – stress, anxiety, poor self-esteem, negative body image and traumatising events have all been linked with contributing to the onset of bulimia.
  • Societal pressures – the media and images of slim models and celebrities have been identified as a potential trigger for this eating disorder.

How can bulimia be prevented?

As the cause of bulimia is unknown, knowing how to prevent its onset is also unclear. However, medical professionals recognise that education and awareness are important in helping to prevent susceptibility to this eating disorder. Encouraging young people to have a positive body image and teaching awareness of how beauty’s portrayal in the media is unrealistic are both ways to help in the prevention of bulimia. Equally important is identifying early indications of bulimia in friends and family and encouraging them to find support or to talk about their problems.

What is the treatment for bulimia?

It is possible to recover from bulimia, but recovery differs for everyone. Treatment plans will usually involve a combination of treatments, consisting of psychological support as well as the use of medication. Treating bulimia often involves a team of people, including the patient, their family, a doctor, a mental health professional and sometimes dieticians.

A big step in the treatment of bulimia is learning about the disorder and being able to identify certain triggers, making structured meal plans, and finding healthier ways of coping with underlying emotions.

Successful treatment of bulimia should result in having a patient return to normal eating patterns and having good physical health.  

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