SystmOnline Services Apps
Bulimia is an eating disorder and mental health condition.
People who have bulimia go through periods where they eat a lot of food in a very short amount of time (binge eating) and then are deliberately sick, use laxatives (medication to help them poo) or do excessive exercise, or a combination of these, to try to stop themselves gaining weight.
Men and women of any age can get bulimia, but it's most common in young women and typically starts in the mid-to-late teens.
Symptoms of bulimia include:
These symptoms may not be easy to spot in someone else because bulimia can make people behave very secretively.
Read more about the symptoms of bulimia and warning signs in others.
Getting help and support as soon as possible gives you the best chance of recovering from bulimia.
If you think you may have bulimia, see your GP as soon as you can.
They will ask you questions about your eating habits and how you're feeling, and will check your overall health and weight.
If they think you may have bulimia, or another eating disorder, they should refer you to an eating disorder specialist or team of specialists.
It can be very hard to admit you have a problem and to ask for help. It may make things easier if you bring a friend or loved one with you to your appointment.
You can also talk in confidence to an adviser from eating disorders charity Beat by calling its adult helpline on 0808 801 0677 or youth helpline on 0808 801 0711.
If you're concerned that a family member or friend may have bulimia, let them know you're worried about them and encourage them to see their GP. You could offer to go along with them.
You can recover from bulimia, but it may take time and recovery will be different for everyone.
Your treatment plan will be tailored to you and should take into account any other support you might need, such as for depression or anxiety.
If you are over 18, you will probably be offered a guided self-help programme. This involves working through a self-help book, and often includes keeping a diary and making a plan for your meals. You will be supported by a therapist during this process. You may also be offered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
If you are under 18, you may be offered family therapy as well as CBT.
Read more about the treatments for bulimia.
Bulimia can eventually lead to physical problems associated with not getting the right nutrients, vomiting a lot or overusing laxatives.
Possible complications include:
We don't know exactly what causes bulimia and other eating disorders. You may be more likely to get an eating disorder if:
Bulimia is often a vicious cycle of binging and purging, triggered by things such as hunger, sadness or stress.
You may set very strict rules for yourself about dieting, eating or exercising. Failing to keep to these then leads to periods of excessive eating and loss of control (binge eating), after which you feel guilty or ashamed. You then purge to get rid of the calories, leaving you feeling hungry again, and the cycle continues.