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Bulimia is a type of eating disorder. People with bulimia will eat a larger amount of food than most people would in a similar situation, in a short period of time (binge). Then, to prevent weight gain, they will do something to get rid of the food (purge). They may vomit, exercise too much, or use medicines like laxatives.
People who have bulimia judge themselves harshly on their body weight and shape. To help them cope with these feelings, they follow a strict diet to try to lose weight. But over time the hunger from the strict diet triggers them to binge eat. After binge eating, they feel out of control, ashamed, guilty, and afraid of gaining weight. This distress causes them to purge, in hopes of "undoing" any possible weight gain from the binge.
Without treatment, this "binge and purge" cycle can lead to serious, long-term health problems.
Experts don't know what causes eating disorders such as bulimia. But they may be caused by a mix of family history, social factors, and personality traits. Some things may make you more likely to have bulimia, such as a family history of eating disorders, dieting often, or having a poor body image.
People with bulimia binge eat on a regular basis. To avoid weight gain, they may make themselves vomit, exercise very hard or for a long time, or misuse laxatives or other medicines. They tend to base how they feel about themselves on how much they weigh and how they look.
If your doctor thinks that you may have an eating disorder, he or she will check you for signs of problems caused by your diet and purging, such as poor nutrition or electrolyte imbalances. The doctor will do a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history, including your physical and emotional health.
Bulimia can be treated with counselling and sometimes medicines, such as antidepressants. Getting treatment early can make recovery easier. And it can prevent serious health problems.
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Experts don't know for sure what causes someone to have an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating. But certain things put a person at greater risk for getting an eating disorder. Some of these things include:
Having risk factors for it doesn't mean a person will get an eating disorder. But knowing some of the things that can add to the risk may help to see a problem early when it is easier to treat.
There is no known way to prevent an eating disorder. But knowing the early signs and seeking treatment right away can help prevent problems caused by an eating disorder. Early treatment may be the best way to prevent it from getting worse.
People with bulimia:
Any one of these can be a sign of an eating disorder that needs treatment.
If you are concerned that someone you know has bulimia, look for these signs. A person may have bulimia if he or she:
People who have bulimia may not be thin. They may be a normal size. They may binge in secret and deny that they are purging. This makes it hard for others to know that a person with bulimia has a serious problem.
People who have bulimia follow a strict diet to try to lose weight. But over time, hunger or stress can trigger binge eating. People with bulimia may then purge to avoid weight gain. This starts the cycle of binging and purging that becomes a habit.
Vomiting causes the body to release endorphins. (These are natural chemicals that make you feel good.) Over time, people with bulimia may vomit even if they haven't eaten too much. Repeated vomiting, fasting, exercising too much, or misusing medicines will lead to serious, long-term health problems.
Health problems caused by bulimia include tooth and mouth problems, dehydration, weakness and fainting, and damage to the esophagus. Mental health problems may also occur along with bulimia. This may make treatment take longer.
After bulimia becomes a pattern, it is very hard to return to normal eating without help. But bulimia can be treated. And most people who seek treatment get better.
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Call your doctor now if you have been diagnosed with bulimia and now:
Call your doctor to discuss bulimia if you:
Watchful waiting is a wait-and-see approach. It's not a good choice if you think you or someone you know may have an eating disorder. Call a doctor or an eating disorder hotline to discuss your concerns and learn what you can do to help.
There is no single test that can diagnose bulimia. But the illness may have a visible effect on your health and eating habits.
If your doctor thinks that you may have an eating disorder, he or she will check you for signs of problems caused by your diet and purging, such as poor nutrition or electrolyte imbalances. The doctor will do a physical exam. He or she may ask questions about your medical history, including your physical and emotional health. It's common for another mental health problem to play a part in an eating disorder. This may include problems such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
You may have blood tests or X-rays to check for signs of poor nutrition.
Bulimia can be treated with counselling and sometimes medicines. If a person has another health problem along with bulimia, more treatment may be needed. (For example, with depression an antidepressant may be used.) And it may take longer to get better.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) are types of counselling used to treat bulimia. In CBT, you learn how to change negative thoughts that you may have about food, your weight, and your body. You learn to change negative beliefs about yourself. In IPT, you learn how relationships can affect binge eating and purging.
These are long-term treatments. It may take weeks or months before you notice changes. You may need treatment with counselling and maybe medicines for more than a year. But getting treatment early can prevent serious health problems. And learning how to manage stress while you recover can make recovery easier.
Here are some things you can do to take care of yourself during recovery from an eating disorder.
Current as of: October 20, 2022
Author: Healthwise StaffClinical Review Board: Kathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineW. Stewart Agras MD, FRCPC - Psychiatry
Current as of: October 20, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & W. Stewart Agras MD, FRCPC - Psychiatry
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