Bulimia is an eating disorder and mental health condition.

People who have bulimia go through periods where they eat a lot of food in a very short amount of time (binge eating) and then make themselves sick (purging), use laxatives (medication to help them poo) or do excessive exercise, or a combination of these, to try to stop themselves gaining weight.

Men and women of any age can get bulimia, but it’s most common in young women and typically starts in the mid to late teens.

Symptoms of Bulimia include:

  • eating very large amounts of food in a short time, often in an out-of-control way – this is called binge eating
  • making yourself vomit, using laxatives, or doing an extreme amount of exercise after a binge to avoid putting on weight – this is called purging
  • fear of putting on weight
  • being very critical about your weight and body shape
  • mood changes – for example, feeling very tense or anxious

Treatments for Bulimia:

Self-Help:

You will probably be offered a guided self-help programme as a first step in treating your bulimia. This often involves working through a self-help book combined with sessions with a health care professional, such as a therapist.

These self-help books may take you through a programme that helps you to:

  • Monitor what you are eating – this can help you notice and try to change patterns in your behaviour
  • Make realistic meal plans – planning what and when you intend to eat throughout the day can help you regulate your eating, prevent hunger and reduce binge eating.
  • Learn about your triggers – this can help you to recognise the signs, intervene and prevent a binge-purge cycle.
  • Identify the underlying causes of your disorder – this means you can work on those issues in a healthier way.
  • Find other ways of coping with your feelings.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy:

CBT will usually involve up to 20 sessions across 20 weeks. CBT involves talking to a therapist, who will help you explore emotions and thoughts that could be contributing to your eating disorder, and how you feel about your weight and body shape. 

They will help you to adopt regular eating habits and show you how to stick to them. They should also show you ways to manage difficult feelings and situations to stop you from relapsing once your therapy ends.

Will you be admitted to hospital?

Most people with bulimia will be able to stay at home during their treatment. You will usually have appointments at your clinic and then be able to go home.

However, you may be admitted to hospital if you have serious health complications, including:

  • being very underweight
  • problems with your heart
  • being very ill and your life being at risk
  • being under 18 and your doctors believing you don’t have enough support at home
  • doctors being worried that you might harm yourself or are at risk of suicide
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