Bulimia Summary
Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of secretive excessive eating (bingeing) followed by inappropriate methods of weight control, such as self-induced vomiting (purging), abuse of laxatives and diuretics, or excessive exercise. Purging and nonpurging are the two types of bulimia. There are five basic criteria in the diagnosis of bulimia.
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Bulimia facts

  • Bulimia (also called bulimia nervosa) is a psychological eating disorder.
  • Bulimia is felt to be related to a person's dissatisfaction with their own body image, although the exact cause is not known.
  • Bulimia is diagnosed according to defined criteria.
  • Bulimia can have serious medical complications.
  • The successful treatment of bulimia is often multidisciplinary, involving both medical and psychological approaches.
  • The goals of treatment are to restore physical health and normal eating patterns.

What is bulimia?

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Bulimia is an eating disorder. Bulimia is characterized by episodes of secretive excessive eating (bingeing) followed by inappropriate methods of weight control, such as self-induced vomiting (purging), abuse of laxatives and diuretics, or excessive exercise. Like anorexia nervosa, bulimia is a psychological disorder. It is another condition that goes beyond out-of-control dieting. The cycle of overeating and purging can quickly become an obsession similar to an addiction to drugs or other substances. The disorder generally occurs after a variety of unsuccessful attempts at dieting. Bulimia is also referred to as bulimia nervosa.

Estimates suggest that bulimia is estimated may affect around 0.6% of all people in the U.S. at some point in their lifetime. It is far more common in women than in men; approximately 10% of identified bulimic patients are men. Bulimia is less common in people over 60 years of age, than in younger people. Bulimics are also susceptible to other compulsions, affective disorders, or addictions. About 20%-40% of women with bulimia also have a history of problems related to drug or alcohol use, suggesting that many affected women may have difficulties with control of behavioral impulses.

Unlike people with anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia experience significant weight fluctuations, but their weight loss is usually not as severe or obvious as that of anorexics. The long-term prognosis for people with bulimia is slightly better than for those with anorexia nervosa, and the recovery rate is felt to be higher. However, people with bulimia continue to retain slightly abnormal eating and dieting behaviors even after the recovery period.

The secrecy of bulimia stems from the shame that bulimics often attach to the disorder. Binge eating is not triggered by intense hunger. It is a response to depression, stress, or other feelings related to body weight, shape, or food. Binge eating often brings on a feeling of calm or happiness (euphoria), but the self-loathing because of the overeating soon replaces the short-lived euphoria.

Often, the individual will feel an impairment or loss of control during the binge eating, and the purging becomes a way of regaining control. Not all bulimics engage in self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas during the current episode. Some may fast for days following a binge episode. Others may resort to excessive exercise as a method to regain their control and rid their body of the possible weight gained during the binge. Excessive exercise is that which interferes with normal daily activities or when it occurs at inappropriate times or in inappropriate settings, or when it continues despite illness or injury.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/28/2014

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