Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia (or bulimia nervosa) is a serious mental illness. It can affect anyone of any age, gender, ethnicity or background. People with bulimia are caught in a cycle of eating large quantities of food (called bingeing), and then trying to compensate for that overeating by vomiting, taking laxatives or diuretics, fasting, or exercising excessively (called purging). Treatment at the earliest possible opportunity gives the best chance for a fast and sustained recovery from bulimia.

It’s normal for people who aren’t suffering from an eating disorder to choose to eat a bit more or “overindulge” sometimes. This shouldn’t be confused with a binge eating episode. Binge eating is often a way to cope with difficult emotions; someone may feel driven to binge eat if they’re feeling stressed, upset or angry, for example. During a binge, people with bulimia don’t feel in control of how much or how quickly they’re eating. Some people also say that they feel as though they’re disconnected from what they’re doing. The food eaten during a binge may include things the person would usually avoid. Episodes of binge eating are often very distressing, and people may feel trapped in the cycle of bingeing and purging. People with bulimia place strong emphasis on their weight and shape, and may see themselves as much larger than they are.

Signs of Bulimia

Signs of bulimia vary, but someone doesn’t have to have all of them to be suffering. It’s not always obvious that someone has an eating disorder – remember, they are mental illnesses.  

Treatment for Bulimia

Most treatment for bulimia will take place in outpatient services. Inpatient treatment is usually only necessary when someone is at risk of suicide or severe self-harm.

Last reviewed: December 2020  Next review date: December 2023 Version 2.1 Sources used to create this information are available by contacting Beat. We welcome your feedback on our information resources.