Bulimia nervosa is a condition where a person engages in episodes of secretive binge eating, consuming huge amounts of food quickly, often to the point of pain. After bingeing, the person often feels ashamed and tries to purge their body through forced vomiting, laxative and diuretic use, or excessive exercise. People who engage in episodes of binge eating but do not purge may have binge eating disorder (BED).

Over time, this cycle can cause major problems in the body. Stomach acid produced during vomiting episodes may wear away the esophageal lining and cause dental cavities. Electrolytes in the body may be disrupted and dehydration can occur. Excessive laxative use may lead to constipation and hemorrhoids.

It is estimated that up to 4.2% of women will develop bulimia in their lifetime. A cultural preference for thinness, coupled with genetics and psychological predisposition, may lead to bulimia. People participating in activities where thinness is commonly considered desirable, such as acting, dancing, or modeling, may be more likely to develop bulimia.

It can be difficult to recognize when a loved one has bulimia, since the person will often take great care to hide their behaviour. Signs of bulimia to watch for include obsession with food and weight control, excessive exercise, development of dental cavities, sore throat, scarring on the hands, and secretive behaviours (such as wanting to eat alone or disappearing to the bathroom soon after a meal). Bulimia can be a serious, scary condition, but it is treatable with a combination of medication, counselling, and careful monitoring. The most important aspect of any bulimia treatment plan is the strong support of family and friends.

Marlene Veloso
With updates by the MediResource Clinical Team