What is bulimia nervosa?

Bulimia is best described by episodes of binge eating followed by various methods of trying to control one’s weight. These methods might include self-induced vomiting (purging), excessive exercise, abuse of laxatives or abuse of diuretics. This cycle of overeating, purging and experiencing the feelings afterwards can become as compulsive and obsessive as drug addiction or alcoholism.

The core of bulimia and the secrecy that is connected with it stems from the shame that bulimics attach to the disorder. Compulsive eating is not triggered by intense hunger. It is often the response to feelings of sadness, depression or stress. Compulsive eating or binge eating often produces an immediate feeling of calm (euphoria), which is followed by anxiety and self-loathing for overeating. In an attempt to offset possible weight gain and to deal with the feelings of anxiety and self-loathing, sufferers embrace a method to rid themselves of food and calories (self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics or exercising compulsively). Immediately after expelling food or fluids, they may experience feelings of euphoria and relief. Unfortunately, these feelings are short-lived, as the shame attached to the behaviour sets in. To deal with the depression and shame, bulimics see overeating as a solution. This becomes a vicious cycle.

Not all bulimics engage in self-induced vomiting or the abuse laxatives, enemas or diuretics. Many fast for days after binge eating. Others turn to drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines or crystal meth (tik). Regardless of the method chosen, the goal is to gain control of weight, feelings and people. Unfortunately, this can never be accomplished.


Health risks

  • heart problems
  • oesophageal ruptures
  • high cholesterol
  • dental problems
  • gastrointestinal problems


How do I get help for myself or my loved one?

The first step in getting help is finding out whether you have a problem. A trained clinical psychologist can effectively perform a professional assessment, which will identify whether you have any problem areas, and will recommend the treatment most appropriate for you if necessary.

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