What is bulimia?

Bulimia is a disease that involves a disturbed relationship to food and weight. Bulimia is characterised by an exaggerated and constant focus on food that leads to episodes with overeating followed by a need for a regulation and control of one’s weight. This is mostly done by forcing vomiting, using laxatives (medicines which helps you poo) or by exercising excessively. The eating disorder is often accompanied by a distorted body perception. Bulimia is most often manifested in young adults and occurs more than 10 times more frequently in women than in men. In the UK, approximately 1-3% suffer from bulimia, where approximately 74% are women and 25% are men. Most patients with bulimia are 22 years old.


What are the symptoms of bulimia?

Bulimia is characterised by a behavior that involves:

  • Persistent fatigue of eating and irresistible urge for large amounts of food
  • Episodes with overeating (at least two times in one week through a three month period)
  • Ingestion of laxatives (diuretic drugs), appetite regulating preparations or metabolism enhancers
  • Permanent periods and self-evident vomiting, leading to inner relief and tranquility
  • Exaggerated need for weight control
  • Excessive exercise
  • A distorted body image
  • A desire to be underweight
  • Guilt and shame after overeating

Often, patients with bulimia will try to hide this weight-compensating behavior so that family and friends do not know about the overuse of medicine and need for vomiting or fasting after meals.


What are the causes of bulimia?

Bulimia is a disease caused by a combination of factors. These factors involve both social relations, family dynamics, culture and heritage. The society's increased focus on the individual and its achievements, the need and pursuit of the perfect and slim body, and the changing beauty ideals are of great importance to the increased number of young people who develop an eating disorder. One theory is based on the fact that bulimian people, who starve themselves due to pressure on achieving a perfect exterior, can trigger the urge for food that is irresistible and therefore results in overeating.

Some of the factors that increase the risk of developing bulimia include certain personality features such as perfectionism and impulsivity. In addition, the risk increases if you have been exposed to the following; sexual abuse, family relationships with large and open conflicts, abuse or increased focus on appearance, weight, dieting and a healthy diet. The risk of developing bulimia is four times higher if you have a relative who has or have had anorexia or bulimia.


What are the treatment options for bulimia?

In the UK, bulimia is underdiagnosed. On average patients wait 4-5 years before consulting a doctor due to the severe bulimia symptoms. This is, among other things, contributing to the fact that very few bulimics are treated for their illness.

Treatment of bulimia is, among other things, due to psycho-education. This means that the patient and the relatives are informed and taught about the disease, its consequences, as well as the diet and body's need for energy and nutrition. In addition, cognitive behavioral therapy is a central part of treatment of bulimics. This type of therapy helps the patient with the distorted thinking patterns that maintains the person in its illness. It helps the patient to achieve a better self-esteem, reduce the need for control and to develop healthier relationships with the body, food and weight. Since the disease is often accompanied by varying degrees of depression, some may benefit from antidepressant medication in combination with the psychotherapeutic treatment. The treatment may take a very long time, and it is important that the patient is supported by close relations and family in order to complete the treatment. In addition, many people benefit from group therapy with patients suffering from the same condition, whom are in the same situation. If you need help, advice or support, you can contact a helpline, which helps patients with eating disorders: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/support-services/helplines

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