Overview of Bulimia

Bulimia is an eating disorder that is characterized by episodes of overeating, otherwise known as bingeing, that is then followed by purging. Bulimics purge their food using various methods, including vomiting and laxatives. These binge-purge cycles can occur a couple times a week to multiple times per day for bulimics. Some bulimics, rather than purging, will fast or over-exercise after bingeing. 

Bulimics can often hide their condition for years because their weight often stays normal or slightly above normal. Most individuals with bulimia struggle with bouts of anxiety, low self-esteem, helplessness, and other emotional problems. Bingeing is used by these individuals to reduce their anxiety and stress levels, which leads to additional feelings of disgust and guilt. In turn, purging occurs to bring relief from the negative feelings.


Common symptoms of bulimia that friends and family should watch out for if they suspect a loved one is suffering from the eating disorder, include:

  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Decreased energy and tiredness
  • Excessive fasting and/or exercise
  • Inappropriate use of laxatives
  • Inflammed or sore throat
  • Obsession with one's body image and weight
  • Odd eating habits
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Self-induced vomiting


Bulimia can lead to major emotional and physical health problems, such as:

  • A diminished sex drive.
  • Dental problems due to the acid found in vomit.
  • Depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other mental concerns.
  • Heart problems due to a lack of potassium, sodium, and other key electrolytes and minerals.
  • Irregular menstrual periods.
  • Kidney and stomach problems, including stomach rupture.
  • Suicidal behavior


Bulimia is addressed using a combination of individual and family therapy, with a focus on both changing one's behavior and improving his or her nutrition. More specifically, therapy will center on the connection between a person's thoughts, feelings, and destructive behaviors with a goal of changing thought patterns that lead to poor behavior.

Although medication is not necessary in all bulimic cases, a provider may prescribe anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. A hospital stay may also be necessary if a person needs to be treated for electrolytes.

A bulimic's health care provider, nutritionist, and family all play a crucial role in helping an individual to overcome bulimia.

© 2018 Intermountain Healthcare. All rights reserved. The content presented here is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and it should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.