Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that causes a person to binge on large quantities of food and then purge using methods such as vomiting or laxatives.

What is Bulimia?
Bulimia occasionally accompanies other eating disorders such as anorexia, and some people with bulimia cycle between it and other eating disorders. Symptoms of bulimia include binge-eating, purging, and excessive exercise. It can cause physical and health side effects including tooth decay, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, wounds in the mouth, and a pouch-like appearance to the cheeks.

What Causes Bulimia?
The incidence of bulimia is heavily influenced by cultural messages that thinness is beautiful and increases a person’s value. Women are significantly more likely than men to develop the condition, likely because of the cultural pressure on women to be thin. Personal factors such as perfectionism and competitiveness can increase likelihood of developing the disease. Family problems, trauma, and family pressure to be thin or conform to an unreasonable beauty standard can also increase the likelihood of developing bulimia. Athletes in sports such as ballet, gymnastics, figure skating, and wrestling are at an increased risk of developing eating disorders.

How is Bulimia Treated?
Many people with bulimia require both medical and psychiatric care. They may require intravenous fluids, nutritional consultations, or dental care to fix the health problems caused by bulimia, and for people with bulimia who are very ill, medical treatment often comes before psychiatric treatment. Psychotherapy that addresses issues of depression, low self-esteem, perfectionism, or compulsive tendencies can be helpful, and some people benefit from antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. Group therapy and self-help programs can also be effective because these programs allow people with bulimia to share coping strategies, discuss challenges, and be held accountable by peers who have experienced similar issues. Some people with bulimia join Overeaters Anonymous to help them cope with their desire to binge eat.


  1. A.D.A.M. Editor Board. (2012, February 13). Bulimia. PubMed Health. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001381/
  2. American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.

Last Updated: 08-4-2015

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