What is Bulimia Nervosa? - Focusing on the Causes and Symptoms of Bulimia

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What Causes Bulimia?

Although not much is known about the exact causes of this eating disorder, it is believed that a combination of emotional and physical reasons may be behind it.

Low-self esteem, a perfectionist personality, obsessive thinking, depression, difficulties in managing anger, and an emotionally stressful event (such as a divorce) are some of the psychological reasons that may lead to bulimia nervosa.

It has also been found that people with siblings or parents with an eating disorder are more likely to develop bulimia. This indicates that there may be a possible genetic link to this illness as well. Although there is unlikely to be a ‘bulimia gene’ scientists believe that there could be genetic factors that could make someone more susceptible than others to developing the disorder. A deficiency of the brain chemical serotonin may also be a cause of this illness.

Dieting, excessive exercising, type 1 diabetes, and a desire for thinness can also trigger bulimia in some young women.

Signs and Symptoms

Bulimia usually occurs in individuals in their late teens or early twenties and is more common in women than in men. The weight and height of people with this eating disorder is usually normal, unlike anorexia nervosa, where excessive weight loss is witnessed.

Following are some of the common symptoms of bulimia:

  • Excessive eating to the point of pain or discomfort, also called bingeing
  • Binges are followed by purging behaviors such as vomiting, using laxatives, enemas, or diuretics to get rid of the food and prevent weight gain
  • Binge and purge cycles for at least twice a week for three months or more
  • Feeling that you have no control over these bingeing episodes
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Excessive exercising
  • Distorted body image that makes a person think they are much heavier than they actually are
  • Avoiding eating with others and an unwillingness to socialize
  • Visits to the toilet immediately after a meal to get rid of food
  • Feelings of guilt and shame about the binge and purge cycles
  • Even a small snack can make the person want to purge
  • Anxiety, depression, and difficulties concentrating
  • Digestion problems such as bloating, feeling of fullness, indigestion, abdominal pain, constipation, or diarrhea
  • Dehydration

Long-term Effects of Bulimia

If these symptoms are ignored and appropriate treatment not taken, bulimia nervosa can lead to more drastic symptoms including damage to the teeth and gums, sores in the throat and mouth, irregular heartbeat, menstrual irregularities, and kidney damage.

The face may be puffed up due to swollen salivary glands in the cheeks. Sores, scars or calluses on the knuckles may develop if the person uses these to make them vomit. Damage to the bowel muscles may also occur due to laxative abuse and enemas.

If reviewing the above signs of bulimia makes you think that you may be suffering from this eating disorder, you should get immediate medical help. The constant bingeing and purging cycle can put your health and life at a great risk. Appropriate treatment can help to prevent the long-term effects of bulimia from taking hold and get you back to leading a normal life.

NB: The content of this article on ‘what is bulimia?’ is for information purposes only and is not intended to replace sound medical advice and opinion.


Bupa Health Insurance: Bulimia nervosa, https://www.bupa.co.uk/individuals/health-information/directory/b/bulimia

Mayo Clinic: Bulimia nervosa, https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bulimia/DS00607

Medline Plus: Bulimia, https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000341.htm