Also known as: Bulimia nervosa

For more than 25 years, the Providence Eating Disorders Treatment Program has helped patients recover from anorexia, bulimia and atypical eating disorders. Our treatment process begins with a thorough clinical assessment to address current and past eating practices and the physical and emotional consequences of these practices. This includes the evaluation of symptoms, such as depression, anxiety and substance use, as well as lifestyle factors, such as social support from family and friends. As patients approach or re-approach treatment, their readiness and the timing of treatment are also considered. Recovery is a process that requires persistence, courage and effective treatment resources.

Bulimia is an eating disorder. People with bulimia are overly concerned with their body shape and weight. They will overeat (binge) then follow this with vomiting, a laxative, or enema abuse (purge) to maintain body weight. An affected person may also fast, follow extreme diets, or overexercise.

People with bulimia often feel a lack of control during their eating binges. Food is usually eaten quickly, often secretly. This is followed by feelings of guilt and shame and the desire to purge to remove the excess calories.

Bulimia is more commonly found in young women. But, men can also have it. Many factors may lead a person to become bulimic. These include society’s emphasis on being thin, family attitudes toward diet and weight control when growing up, and another family member with bulimia. Brain chemistry may be a factor in some people.

Those with this illness often have an average weight, at least part of the time. But, food and weight gain are a constant concern and may get in the way of other activities.

If you have bulimia, it can severely damage your body. Certain chemicals in your blood (electrolytes) can become out of balance and you can become dehydrated. When severe, these problems can affect the heart, causing irregular heartbeat and even sudden death. In rare cases, binging and purging can damage the esophagus and stomach, causing tears or rupture.

Symptoms of bulimia may include:

  • Severe weight loss

  • Vomiting and diarrhea

  • Indigestion, acid reflux, heartburn, or belly pain

  • Blood in vomit or stool

  • Fast, slow, or irregular heart rate

  • Trouble breathing

  • Lack of energy

  • Confusion

  • Fainting

  • Seizures

  • Skin color changes, dry skin

  • Loss of the enamel on the front teeth

Treatment involves both individual and group therapy. Antidepressants may be used. With motivation and good treatment people do recover from this illness.

Home care

Here is what you can do at home:

  • If you have been prescribed medicine, take it every day even if you think you don’t need it.

  • In addition to seeing a therapist or counselor, talk about your feelings and thoughts with a friend or family member who supports you.

  • Keep your appointments with your healthcare provider or therapist. During your visit, be completely honest about your binging and purging habits.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider or as advised. For more information, contact:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness 800-950-6264 www.nami.org

  • National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders www.anad.org/ 

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these happen:

  • Thoughts of harming yourself or another

  • Unable to take care for yourself

  • Worsening depression or anxiety

  • Worsening of binge eating episodes, either in frequency of episodes or amount of food ingested 

  • Feeling out of control

  • Dizziness, weakness, or fainting

  • Fast or irregular heart beat (palpitations)

  • Blood in your vomit or stool (red or black color)